Costly government

Written By: - Date published: 3:00 pm, June 14th, 2015 - 43 comments
Categories: child welfare, health, housing, national, poverty - Tags: , , ,

I wrote yesterday about our heartless, penny-pinching government, which emphasises Getting To Surplus at all costs even if that means kids dying in cold state houses.

This is the true irony of National governments. Their entire platform is one of “fiscal responsibility” and “good economic management” yet time and time again they spend money the way I did when I was a teenager: false economies and short-term wish fulfilment which meant at the end of the week I was calling home collect and begging for rides which cost our household a lot more than if I’d just made sure I had enough money for the bus.

Fifteen-year-old-me was pretty stellar at externalising the losses, but I don’t think anyone, especially my parents or me, would relish the idea of her running the country.

National are, on the surface, all about cracking down on unnecessary spending and bureaucratic bloat, delivering value for money, getting proper returns on investment.

And yet, they don’t save us money.

A 2013 report of the National Health Committee on respiratory diseases puts the cost of lower respiratory tract infections like pneumonia at:

The average length of stay was about 3.5 days and the average price per hospitalised individual was $4,700.

According to the coroner’s report, Emma-Lita Bourne was admitted to hospital on 6 August and died on 8 August. Three days; and probably higher than average costs given the complications she suffered.

Making sure her family could afford to heat their home and throw some carpet on the floor wouldn’t have cost $5,000 – and could not only have saved her life in 2014 but prevented any number of future illnesses for her and her siblings.

A 2014 report from UNICEF states:

Every year, taxpayers face a bill of $6-8 billion for additional health needs, remedial education and reduced productivity that result from 260,000 children living in poverty. This cost is largely due to the fact that children most likely to be in poverty are very young, when the most important physical, mental and social development is occurring. Furthermore, a large group of children live in poverty for a long time – 7 years – and about ten per cent of Kiwi Kids live in severe poverty.

Six to eight billion. What was the estimated cost of Hone Harawira’s Feed the Kids bill again? $100 million. Estimated cost of Sue Moroney’s extension to paid parental leave? $276 million over three years. Drops in a bucket.

The Greens-initiated housing insulation policy had, as of May 2012, cost $347 million and returned estimated benefits – in reduced healthcare costs – of $1.68 billion. That’s some good fiscal management right there.

And as the fabulous Dr Liz Craig put it a couple of years ago:

… a housing warrant of fitness could improve the condition of rental properties, and although it could increase rents, at the moment all taxpayers are covering the costs of substandard housing through the health system and it’s a conversation the country needs to have.

Emphasis mine.

It’s almost like the radical notion that prevention is better than cure stacks up – ethically and financially. Maybe not on a single year’s balance sheet; but when we’re talking about caring for people from cradle to grave, a single year’s balance sheet is irrelevant.

So if National were truly interested in efficiencies and return on investment – instead of just using those buzzwords to sell their latest erosion of the public service – every state house would be warm and dry. Every kid would get breakfast and lunch. Every parent could give their kids the best start in life with mum or dad at home for those crucial early months.

Sometimes people on the left object to putting things in monetary terms – when the Public Service Association put the cost of domestic violence to business in numbers ($368 million a year) there was criticism: surely we’re motivated to stop domestic violence because it’s a bad thing which should never happen to anyone!

They’re right. They’re also wrong. This is a heartless government. They don’t do things “just because” it’s the right thing to do. Their focus is always on the money: they balance the books, they do the practical stuff, not the wasteful airy-fairy lefty stuff.

So we must, and can, argue this on both fronts. Of course every Kiwi kid should get breakfast and lunch because food is a fundamental part of being healthy and happy. But it’s also not just feelgood. It saves a huge amount of money in the long run, in education, in healthcare, in law enforcement.

It doesn’t mean we accept the frame that everything is about money. We just show very clearly how doing the right thing morally also means doing the right thing financially. The National Party isn’t selling our soul to save dollars; it’s selling our soul and costing us money at the same time.

That can’t be anyone’s definition of “good government.”

43 comments on “Costly government”

  1. Karen 1

    Excellent post Stephanie.

    • mickysavage 1.2

      Agreed. Of course the other feature of National Governments is that they are totally focussed on the short term and so making wise long term decisions is totally beyond them.

      • Capn Insano 1.2.1

        Indeed they are and it shows in their performance to date [or should I say a lack of performance].

      • Gosman 1.2.2

        Labour had 9 years in power. This should have been plenty time to introduce long term policies that would start to come to fruit about now. What were these policies and how do we see the benefit of them?

  2. NZJester 2

    The National Government has never been about saving money as it claims, it has always been about moving money into the pockets of the richest National sponsors. Privatisation costs the average people of NZ more but moves more money into the pockets of their rich National sponsors who repay the favor by giving a small amount of that back to the National Party in so called anonymous donations through donation hiding schemes like their dinner meeting fundraisers.
    More than two thirds of the National supporters are paying more for everything, not realizing that most Labour and Green policies would actually save them money and increase their business profits in the long run. They have been hoodwinked by the richest supporters of the party who are the ones raking in all the cash at everyone elses expense.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      More than two thirds of the National supporters are paying more for everything, not realizing that most Labour and Green policies would actually save them money and increase their business profits in the long run. They have been hoodwinked by the richest supporters of the party who are the ones raking in all the cash at everyone elses expense.

      QFT

      The only way to get rich is to steal from everyone else.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 2.2

      repay the favor by giving a small amount of that back

      According to National Party insider Simon “Blabbermouth” Lusk, MPs trade favours in office for lucrative business deals once they leave Parliament.

      That’s how they avoid prison.

    • Anne 2.3

      They’ve been hoodwinked cos they fancy themselves as being ‘one of them’.

    • RedLogix 2.4

      In practical terms this is why I’ve advocated Labour expanding it’s electoral branding to target small business and the rural sector.

      While National sits on plenty of safe rural seat – a close look at more than one or two suggest they are not all that safe really.

      I’d argue that a Labour leader who knew how to connect with these often hard-working and intensely pragmantic people could get them to swing vote for a Party that showed how it was going to deliver a better business environment for them.

      These people have way more in common with the traditional Labour voter than they do with the big finance and crony capitalism end of town.

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    Lack of money

    A key element in the failure to address these problems is money. Ask our politicians to effectively address climate change: no money. Investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy: no money. Nature and environment: no money. But also: better and cheaper education: no money. Employment programs: no money. In other words, there is, at least at this time, no money for those things that are important to the quality of life for present and future generations, such as good public services, a clean environment and the responsible use of natural resources.

    Lack of money really isn’t the problem, tilting society so that all the money ends up in the hands of the 1% is.

    Somebody be nice and embed this image:
    http://positivemoney.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Screenshot-2015-06-13-15.27.31-650×300.png

  4. Atiawa 4

    Surely the disturbing aspect of the post besides the glaringly obvious, is to enable a message as simple as Stephanie’s, to be understood, supported and then acted upon by our communities. Opposition political parties are presented with a socially responsible and fiscally practical argument which they,and indeed us all, must take advantage of within our communities if we hope to bring about change,
    Great post deserving of a wider readership.

      • RedLogix 4.1.1

        Good series Steph – great to see an author trying to develop a theme. That takes a lot more effort and thought than a one off post banged off in reaction to the outrage-de-jour.

        • Any suggestions on how to develop it further greatly appreciated!

          • George Hendry 4.1.1.1.1

            Kia ora Stephanie 🙂

            Thanks for your energy and focus in addressing this issue and providing the platform for ongoing discussion.

            In the many months I have been reading these threads, sincere, caring comments (not astroturfing or trolling) seemed to fit one of the following two categories :

            1

            ‘ The government are so Stupid. How can they not see by now that they are harming people, democracy and the country?’

            2

            ‘ They are not stupid, but they sure are heartless. They and their cronies just want to get really rich, and if this makes the poor suffer then that is the fault of the poor.’

            Rarely ever do I see a comment that feels like

            3

            ‘They are no way stupid. Nor are they merely heartless, as in letting others suffer as if by accident. Their destructive behaviour is deliberate and planned. They are gathering force and weapons, and they will kill us if we let them. They are coming for us, a few at a time. Their intent is so criminal as to be beyond the scope of our existing framework of legal redress.’

            The term ‘sociopathic’, while I believe it conveys the internal attitude of this government, does not include the series of actions that indicate such an attitude. I could list the actions I mean, and demonstrate for each one why I consider it sociopathic rather than stupid or merely heartless. But does this thread want to go there yet? 🙂 🙂 🙂

            • Stephanie Rodgers 4.1.1.1.1.1

              I’m not a fan of the term “sociopathic” because I think it’s unnecessary and unhelpful to use medical mental illness terms to refer to deliberately cruel behaviour.

              • George Hendry

                Thanks for this reply.

                I’m not attached to any particular term and was unaware that ‘sociopathic’ is specifically a psychiatric category. Perhaps it shouldn’t be used here, but then again perhaps it applies nonetheless.

                Does deliberately cruel behaviour in fact arise from a particular category of mental illness? Or in other words, is its absence one of the descriptors of good mental health?

                In ‘People of the Lie’ author and psychiatrist Scott Peck suggested that evil, as in evil behaviour, could well be made a psychiatric subcategory, briefly described as the wish to harm, realisation of the social unacceptability of such wish, and a resulting advanced skill in lying about one’s actions and intentions. Peck held that due to the effectiveness of their lying, both to others and to themselves, such people would rarely be ‘obviously’ mentally ill or diagnosed as such, would have advanced social skills, manage their lives well and come across as ‘pillars of the community.’

                A useful skillset for continuing to be reelected while betraying the naive.

                • Gosman

                  Do you honestly believe an entire strata of mainstream political thought is actually full of people who secretly want to harm others?

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    Yes:

                    The study’s findings were disturbing, bearing out the large amount of anecdotal evidence the researchers had long been gathering. The research showed that approximately 3% of those assessed in this management development program study scored in the psychopath range – well above the incidence of 1% in the general population. By comparison, the incidence of psychopathy in prison populations is estimated at around 15%.

          • RedLogix 4.1.1.1.2

            Well perhaps the underlying theme is that this govt is a failure, even by it’s own standards.

            Setting aside the obvious magical thinking like “Vote for a Brighter Future” – think of the branding values the Tories typically appropriate for themselves. Because it’s often the very things your opponent imagines is his/her strength which is also their hidden weakness.

  5. tc 5

    The cost on households of flogging off power generators is another extra burden mandatorily built in as everyone needs power

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      Privatisation increases costs but, then, that’s what it’s designed to do as monopolies (usually built by the community) are shifted over to the private sector to make huge profits from. And we don’t get any greater investment as the privatisation of our telecommunications prove as we’re now having to pay large sums via government to get fibre to the home which should have been a natural progression within the natural maintenance and replacement of old cables.

  6. Ad 6

    Sounds like you were quite some teenager!

    In the latest Listener there is a line from the Retirement Commissioner stating this this will be the last generation to be able to provide inheritances to their children.

    Her reasoning is that people are already living so long that they are, in her phrase, “eating their houses”. People will essentially prevent their children from inheriting, because the elderly home owner will downsize or reverse-mortgage their equity to survive until there is equity no more.

    I recommend you read the article, because there is a good source for a further instalment from you on how ensuring house ownership to this generation vastly decreases taxpayer subsidies in the future as the population ages.

    Further, that the plummeting decline in home ownership makes this a reality within the horizon of at least Generation X.

  7. linda 7

    national will steal everything they can while the music is still playing once it stops they run for the hills while blaming everyone else i would say when the music stop we make sure the duck stops with the nats and make them pay a heavy price for the theft and looting

  8. upnorth 8

    What I absolutely dislike about this post is not once have you talked about personal responsibility.

    Stop blaming governments – past or present

    This is a naive cut and paste article using selective parts of the report – have you read the PSA report by the way?

    • ropata 8.1

      How can a kid fresh out of school take “personal responsibility” for an out of control housing market, for insecurity of tenants, for unnecessary diseases of poverty in a wealthy nation like NZ?

      New Zealanders of good conscience need to take collective responsibility and kick out the big business crony party, and vote for parties that care about people.

    • Atiawa 8.2

      Fuck off. The post is about governments responsibility.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 8.3

      What I absolutely dislike about your comment is how little personal responsibility you exhibit. The responsibility to educate yourself before running your mouth on subjects you have no understanding of, for example.

      • mac1 8.3.1

        How often have we heard this…”But, but, but, I’m entitled to my opinion,” which actually means “I don’t have to apply logic or facts to my beliefs, because they are my beliefs and they reflect my view of the world, and since I’m comfortable with that view and your views are too challenging and uncomfortable, I’m not changing or even listening ……….and any way votes are about feelings and not about policy and reasoning. and my lot are in power, so there.”

    • “not once have you talked about personal responsibility”

      You know, there’s a really funny reason for that – it’s because I find the rightwing meme of bashing people who cannot find jobs, whose government does not support them sufficiently so they can feed their kids and heat their homes despite rough economic times, and whose children have died kinda heartless and gross.

      I’m a leftwinger. I believe in collective responsibility and broad government support, not crushing the spirit out of one group of people so your mates can keep making huge profits.

      • Atiawa 8.4.1

        + 100

      • upnorth 8.4.2

        where is your policy – not demand more money – I said past and present (not right or left)

        Why do we have to wait 2 years for labours policy on anything – are you better to give a policy – not just spend other people money

        I seriously think you should stop cut and pasting articles and think about policy.

        Lets be fair here – policy please not emotion. I totally dislike people dying when can be avoidable

        • There have been numerous policies offered in the form of members bills from opposition parties that would have done a lot to address this problem. (from Feed the Kids bills to the home insulation initiative (which was scaled back by the govt) and more)

          I’m not sure where your comment about “not just spending other people’s money” comes in. Government spending is OUR money, it’s not “your” money that the government doesn’t have a right to that they somehow steal, there’s an implicit social contract in a democracy that this is how taxes work.

          Keep in mind as well, as Stephanie has lined out earlier, this isn’t just “spending money”, this is actually an investment. When you improve your infrastructure or have targetted spending programs to reduce certain negative outcomes, it will often save you money in the long run, either due to things like decreased health costs and benefit payouts, or simply due to increased tax take from people being more successful. There is a reason why the Spirit Level had such a reception- because when the people doing worst off in a society are doing reasonably well, everyone does better. (even National’s mates, although they don’t realise it because they’re too obsessed with their share of the economy rather than their actual earnings)

        • One Anonymous Bloke 8.4.2.2

          where is your policy – not demand more money – I said past and present (not right or left)

          Why do we have to wait 2 years for Labours policy on anything

          Why are you asking questions of the Labour Party at The Standard?

          The Labour Party website has an extensive policy section, which you haven’t even bothered to look for. Instead, you tr*ll this forum expecting everyone else to run around for you.

          Where’s your personal responsibility? Are you going to thank me and read the policies, then? Like fuck you are, tr*ll.

    • RedLogix 8.5

      Why have we not talked about “personal responsibility”?

      Because it’s just that … personal. These families have just lost children and I think implying that it’s all due to their own lack of responsibility, is a gross lack of decency and has no place in a public forum. I want to respect their right to privacy and to grieve without making prying, sneering judgement.

      But at the same time, as Stephanie states above, I also believe that the government has a collective public health responsibility in this matter – yet they have openly and explicitly abdicated it. And that IS political and that IS what we can talk about.

      Loudly.

  9. Reddelusion 9

    socialist babysitting crocodile tears

    It now appears that not only are there 260,000 staving children on school days but our state house tenants are dying like flies due to political neglect! Why on earth are people coming New Zealand in record numbers? It’s hell on earth here We have spies reading and listening to our every communication. We are over run by rich pricks buying our houses. We have complete strangers from other countries working their buts off taking jobs off our poor unemployed brothers and sisters. It just goes on and on.

    How can I live in a country that is so inhuman you can ring WINZ to receive a free $300 heater and a $100 grant to pay for the power to run it., plus have a tradesman at your place in 10 days at no cost , my god the injustice

    The isocialist paradise of Cuba Venezuela North Korea, or any where else Syria Greece Iraq get more appealing every day

    [Stephanie: Your bingo-board troll lines are really boring, and if you do it again on this thread the readers of The Standard will get a well-deserved holiday from you. If we wanted to read rightwing mockery of the left’s tendency to actually care about people other than themselves we’d subscribe to an anonymizing service and read WhaleOil.]

  10. Lloyd 10

    Investment in children’s health and education will logically result in a richer country in the long run.
    The unfortunate thing for a five year old today is that they won’t be able to be a money-generating unit for several elections, so why should our sell-it-off-quick-to-our-mates government bother in any investment in children?

  11. Stuart Munro 11

    Good work Stephanie.

    Bill can’t run disaster capitalism and simultaneously claim to be a prudent manager. And a equity based analysis of this government would show they are constantly doing things that private companies eschew because of fraud liability.

    It’s important to lift the lid on the omnishambles because the media toadies won’t, and the opposition parties need to prepare policies to fight the fires and pump the enough water out to avoid a catastrophic failure.

    I wouldn’t hire Bill to keep books for ISIS, much less New Zealand. Reckon his wife balances his chequebook for him.

  12. Policy Parrot 12

    The word “myopia” immediately springs to mind.

    “… a viewpoint that fails to consider anything outside a very narrow and limited range.”

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