Armstrong and class interest

Written By: - Date published: 10:56 am, March 6th, 2010 - 28 comments
Categories: class war, gst, poverty, tax - Tags:

John Armstrong’s piece today focuses on how Labour are winning the debate on GST but, unfortunately, he reveals his own prejudices in this passage:

“Labour is highlighting the ones who will most definitely be better off – those who stand to benefit from the top tax rate falling from 38 to 33 cents in the dollar.

Labour argues National’s package takes from the poor to reward the rich and thus fails to meet Key’s test of fairness.

What Labour is doing is invoking the politics of envy.

National is invoking the politics of aspiration in the belief that tax cuts for the well-off have greater acceptance among those less well-heeled than Labour gives credit.”

I’m sorry John, but those are the words of a rich man. A person disconnected with low and middle income New Zealand.

The poor are not envious of the rich. They are pissed off by them. They are pissed off that they work hard all day to get a pittance but those who belong to the right class, the ruling class, get paid many times more for doing jobs that are less dangerous, less degrading, less difficult. They are pissed off that they are the ones who lose their jobs first in the recession the rich caused. They are pissed off that they are the first to get the pay freezes and bear the brunt of public service cuts while the rich get more money for their private schools

The poor are not envious of the rich’s tax cuts under National’s plan. They are outraged by them. Paul Reynolds will be getting $1,000 a day in tax cuts. That money doesn’t materialise out of thin air. It comes from dipping into the wallets of everyone else.

The poor don’t need tax cuts for the top 12% to to inspire them to want to get out of poverty. Poverty is inspiration enough. But the poor cannot all become rich. To function capitalism needs poverty. There’s got to be lots of people doing the shitty, dangerous, hard jobs for cheap. And the wealth will always flow to the elite few who own capital or defend their interests.

There’s no aspiration in this tax swap from rich to poor. There’s only greed. The greed of the rich class that John Key and National represent. They want more and to give it to them National will take from those who have the least.

On a lighter hearted note, John Cleese had this ‘aspirational’ crap pinned 40 years ago:

28 comments on “Armstrong and class interest”

  1. r0b 1

    What Labour is doing is invoking the politics of envy.
    National is invoking the politics of aspiration

    Yeah that’s a dead give away from John.

    He says “The politics of envy” we say “The politics of compassion”.

    He says “The politics of aspiration“, we say “The politics of greed” (at least, that’s what we would say if we were playing his framing game).

    Have you any compassion left in you John?

    • Mr Magoo 1.1

      The politics of aspiration would be to provide opportunities to the less well off to better themselves AND the country at the same time.

      Education. Innovation. New industry.

      But this government has none of that. Tax cuts are nothing but redistribution of wealth and anyone trying to argue otherwise is either being foolish or selfish. There is NO EVIDENCE for any of the propaganda supporting this move over other forms of tax cuts or spending the money in other ways.


  2. Bill 2

    At the risk of sounding like I’ve got my head up my arse…I can see why ‘we’ can’t be used in lieu of the ‘the poor’ and ‘they’ when your not poor.

    But, it’s a shame you didn’t generate a sense of inclusion…give the opportunity or space to identify on a personal level with the sentiments expressed. Easily done…

    “If I was poor, I wouldn’t be envious of the rich. I’d be pissed off by them…”


    “When I was poor I wasn’t envious…..”

    I’m only saying this ’cause in spite of being poor I’m just not in the post!

    The poor are ‘othered’ by the language used and so ironically the post imposes a degree of detachment for the reader. The sentiments you reflect are about right. IMO

    • mcflock 2.1


      I’d even go so far as to say that what the NACTs rely on is for “the poor” to be regarded as “the other” by everyone (including “the poor”) and being wealthy to be regarded as the norm.

      Statistically, I’m upper-middle class with no dependents (best fiscal decision I made by accident). Practically, I pretty much just break even in the “tax cuts vs 15%GST” argument. So it seems to me that most NZers will probably end up paying more, and yet there is the illusion that only a few will be worse off and beneficiaries will be compensated (and that’s just a sop for a few more votes).

      “Free markets” are supposed to work by everyone acting in their own self interest, and yet the parties that are the biggest champions of free markets attempt to mislead the bulk of us into acting against our own self interest when we vote.

      The question is “which concept do they seriously believe is best for long term efficiency in a system: all actors working towards their own interest, or some actors sacrificing their own self interest for others?”

      • Lanthanide 2.1.1

        Yes, the average man does not get paid the average wage in NZ, but you wouldn’t know that listening to NAct.

    • Lew 2.2

      Bill, I see what you’re saying and I agree about the othering. But it raises the problem that “the poor”, such as they are, will have a bloody hard time getting anything without the help of at least some of “the rich”, and by linguistically excluding anyone who doesn’t think of themselves as poor, you actually lessen the chance that the poor will actually see any improvement. Chris Trotter, of all people I would be citing, makes this point in his latest.

      Thing is that in the USA at least (and it would likely be comparable here), somewhere north of 80% of people think of themselves as middle class, whether they objectively are or not. This is certainly an argument in favour of restructuring society and making deep changes to the propagandisation of class normality, if you’re into that sort of thing, but in the interim it’s a stronger argument for trading off a little bit of working class solidarity to ensure that the poor do genuinely get some democratic assistance from the rich in the here and now.

      A similar principle applies to Māori and Pākehā — Māori can’t get nothing without the consent or at least the accession of a large proportion of Pākehā. This means hard-line exclusive (or “separatist”) identity demarcations can be a problem.


      • Rex Widerstrom 2.2.1

        I agree Lew, and would add that it also ignores (and one might even say denigrates) those “them” who are fundamentally decent people, like Allan Hubbard. When South Canterbury Finance went wobbly he didn’t join the multinational banks squealing at the trough of public money filled by governments, he did the decent thing and put his own money in to keep it afloat.

        If capitalists are prepared to accept their losses I don’t have a huge problem with them taking their winnings, provided workers are paid adequately. Many capitalists have woken up to the concept that sharing some of the wealth (and throwing in some non-cash perks as well) tends to generate more wealth.

        Rather than demonising them as “them” surely we (and I use that term in this context to mean society as a whole, not just the poor) should be acknowledging and encouraging them? Holding them up as examples to other capitalists? And – as people with some minor influence on the political process- encouraging the passing of laws which encourage and reward such behaviour?

        That may not be Socialist Utopia, but IMHO it’s a pragmatic, achievable strategy that’s far less divisive whilst genuinely improving the lot of the average employee (who, we need to remember, probably works for the owner of a small business who’s really not that different from themselves. Not every capitalist is a rapacious multinational, Marty).

      • Bill 2.2.2

        “…by linguistically excluding anyone who doesn’t think of themselves as poor,..”

        You’re missing the point I was making, which was simply that poor people had been linguistically excluded from a piece that spoke of poor peoples’ attitudes. Marty, who I presume is not poor, could have expressed solidarity and empathy by using language in a slightly different way that would have expanded any potential audience across divides of haves and have nots…ie it could have been worded or phrased in such a way as to speak to both poor people like me plus wealthy people who ‘get it’.

        Not either/or.

        • Lew

          Right, I wasn’t so much disagreeing with you as talking on the same topic. I agree that the poor could be included more in discussions of them; in fact, I think they should. Only that it’s easy to go too far.


          • Bill

            I don’t know what you mean when you say ‘it’s easy to go too far’.

            Had I written the same post and looked to say the same things, I could have and would have legitimately used the terms ‘I’ and ‘we’ in place of ‘the poor’ and ‘they’ and ‘them’.

            That can’t be seen as going too far, can it?

            It would not in any way have excluded people with a bit of money or material status having full psychological access to the piece and being afforded the space to develop or exercise empathy.

            I’m not really interested in ghettoising or diminishing the constituency I identify with. Ever. I’m always looking to expand it. So I don’t care if you are rich or poor or white or female or whatever. I want to find the common ground and attempt to expand the areas of common ground available for individual people to stand or position themselves. This crucially does not involve indulging in compromise, but rather embracing contradictions and diversity and accepting that somewhere, some-one or something is always pushing the envelope; always moving forwards.

            Some of us will move slower, some faster. But as long as the essential direction is in common and no uniformity or ‘correct’ thought is imposed, then our short term reforms and medium to long term revolutions will come as a natural matter of course.

            • Lew

              Bill, the comment wasn’t a critique of you.


              • Bill

                I didn’t think it was, but you seem to be stuck in an either/or spiral. Or is there another way that your ‘only it’s easy to go too far’ comment is to be understood?

                On the back of my possibly mistaken understanding of your comment, I thought it reasonable to spell out an ‘always and’ scenario in opposition to your either/or position. The comment isn’t made because I’m smarting over some perceived sleight. Rest easy.

              • Lew

                Bill, cool. Hard to know sometimes on the internets, and we’ve had our differences.

                Yes, there is an alternative way to read it. Too far suggests a sliding scale, and that’s what I mean: I think a correction is needed, but a common response in such a situation is to overcorrect. Especially when any correction might come under ideological challenge: it’s easy to amp things up or take a harder line than necessary. I know I’m constantly having to rein myself in.

                Not to day you were advocating such a course of action, but it is common.


  3. peterthepeasant 3

    I cannot believe Armstrong wrote that.
    It is pure sloganeering with no analysis.

    “Politics of envy”? “Politics of aspiration”?
    What a load of meaningless rubbish.

    And he calls himself a journalist?


  4. Olwyn 4

    Bill: if you are not poor and not doing a shitty job, it may be patronising to use the inclusive “we.” But to be fair, Marty is hitting on a real issue and is offering far more than simply a top-down judgement. Quite a part from greed, there is a further implication to the idea behind the “politics of envy” and that is that the aspirations of the wealthy are the only game in town – that we all want Mcmansions with numerous toilets, indoor-outdoor flow, imported furniture and the rest, and our lack of these things points to some inadequacy in us. For some of us all this is actually alien and slightly repulsive – we just want to get by, pay the school fees and the electricity bill, look after our loved ones and enjoy a beer with our mates on Friday night. The appeal to the “politics of envy” purports to remove all variables between Mcmansionville and wretchedness.

    • Bill 4.1

      Agreed on all points.

      And to be fair to me, all I was attempting to do was point out a more expansive and inclusive phraseology that avoided the pitfall of ‘we’ as patronising.

  5. SPC 5

    Labour’s line in 2011 should be – we will accept a 33 cents top rate continuance only with the introduction of a CGT.

    We need to broaden the tax system as has been done overseas – our record does not show our exceptionalism to be better at delivering growth and higher incomes than their’s.

    The money from the CGT can go to reducing tax at the lower thresholds and or taking GST off food and or increased spending (health and education) – and or tax changes – such as R and D tax incentives (depnding on what flaws National’s tax plan has)

  6. aj 6

    It is not the politics of envy, it is the politics that follow being shafted. The highest income earners are going to get another massive tax cut after the average man voted for ‘north of $50’ didn’t get it, and now are not getting it again.

  7. RedLogix 7

    This Winston Peter’s speech given today in Greymouth should be coming from Phil Goff. You might not like the intellectual ‘class analysis’, but he hits the buttons as the old master he is.

    Goff is a competent, experienced and dedicated career politician, the country needs people of his ability serving as Ministers… but as long as Labour continues to spout “class analysis”…pffft!

    • Lew 7.1

      RL, Goff can’t give a speech like that due to the Nine Long Years gambit. Many of the things Peters is criticising are largely Labour’s fault. For some sections of the speech — such as the explicit critique of the present government — I can see what you’re saying.


      • RedLogix 7.1.1

        Well Goff could give this speech if he simply ballsed it out… the obvious response is yes Labour was in power nine years, and yes we part of that history, but I’m the Leader of the Labour caucas now and these are the lessons we have learnt and this is the new direction.

        Turn obvious threat into opportunity.

        • Rex Widerstrom

          You’re absolutely right, RL. That’s certainly the advice I’d be giving him.

          Goff has been close enough to the top during the last nine years to have to shoulder the burden of the bad stuff anyway. It’s not like he can pretend he was out of the room when it happened.

          Admit to the hubris, cop to the failures, then pointing to the successes will have infinitely more credibility. Then look to the future.

          Otherwise it puts me in mind of that brilliant Tom Scott cartoon of Lange just after his resignation saying “If I ever find out who’s been PM these past few years, they’re really going to cop it” 😀

        • Lew

          Trouble is that would require Labour to turn its back on the market, and they’re not ready to do that (nor should they, in my view).

          I agree about admitting to the hubris and copping to the failures — and I’ve written before that this is necessary for Labour’s rehabilitation — but I think that’s a different matter.


        • Lew

          On second reading, RL, perhaps you’re right. Labour’s commitment to market doctrine is more reality than perception, if I may reverse the aphorism, so although they’ve placed almost as much faith in those forces as the Nats during the preceding generation, they’ve compromised in key ways, and are largely perceived as being anti-market, or only grudging accepters of economic orthodoxy.


    • Draco T Bastard 7.2

      Yep, that is exactly what Phil Goff and the Labour Party should be saying. Unfortunately, they’re still finding it difficult to go back on their mistakes of the 4th Labour government.

  8. Descendant Of Smith 8

    It’s what they are not doing on the ground that matters also.

    I live in what used to be a safe Labour seat. What is notable is the total invisibleness of the Labour party in this area. Sure they have built a nice office but that’s about it.

    If the MP can’t make an effort to be out and about, talking to the general public, making statements and challenging this government in the constituency itself then Labour will never win.

    Changing the minds of voters can’t simply rest in Wellington.

    I’m not sure if they are waiting for national office to come up with their “policy” but until the local MP and Labour party branch shows a bit of fight and gumption Labour will continue to be doomed to failure.

    Those Labour ex-voters haven’t gone away but they are waiting for someone to show some some gumption and state what they stand for.

  9. tc 9

    John Armstrong is a nat apologist who writes some of most arrogant ‘born to rule’ based tripe.

    He is obviously desperate to help the clown and co. shore up their leaky boat before blinglish comes out and underwhelms us with his ‘let’s catch up with Oz’ budget spectacular.

    The bloke would’ve been flushed out last millenium in any decent media crowd who valued journos….but this is the Herald so it’s really just a print version of newstalk ZB where right is might and the rest is all your own fault so shut up.

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