Written By: - Date published: 1:13 pm, September 2nd, 2008 - 19 comments
Categories: election 2008, national, spin - Tags:

OK, so there are limitless ways to mock the Nat’s ‘WW2 bombers flying to Chile’ billboard (send us yours to add to these ones) but I want to quickly examine it seriously as a piece of political argument.

First, the premises:
a) our taxes are high: No, they’re not. Tax as a percentage of GDP is pretty much the same as it was in the 1990s and is falling now thanks to the Government’s tax cuts, starting on April 1 with the corporate rate and October 1 with the first tranche of income tax reductions. And our taxes are nothing extraordinary by international standards. In fact, we’re on the low side compared to the rest of the OECD.

b) our loved ones are leaving: Yes and no. Our loved ones have always left, either temporarily or permanently. High migration is part of being a settler society with a small population; it’s in our culture to migrate and opportunities for variety within a small country can be limited. Most people who leave for a period of time come back like me, like John Key, and, odds are, like you. And, yes, some leave for good, like Joh Bjelke-Petersen. In return, migrants come here, like Micheal Cullen. That churn is also part of being a settler state. But we usually have net immigration (the last time we had net emigration was under National in the 1990s) and we have a significant brain-gain from migration because a fair cross-section of the population emigrates but we demand high skill levels from the bulk of our immigrants. Current rates of net emigration by New Zealand citizens are within historic norms for the migration cycle on a per capita basis (National says we have the highest gross emigration since 1979 but that doesn’t take into account population growth, because they’re trying to deceive you).

Now, the argument: voting National will reduce taxes and see fewer Kiwis emigrate:
Well, National has said it will move Labour’s tax cut programme forward by a year and it promises larger cuts but we don’t know what they are or how they will be paid for. Let’s assume National somehow manages to rustle up the $10 billion needed to double Labour’s cuts, giving the average worker that legendary $50 plus. Would that reduce emigration? First, we know that Kiwis don’t emigrate solely for employment and more money, less than half of emigrants state those as their reasons for going. Kiwis leave to see the world, most of them intending to return. So, those people are not going to be swayed by tax cuts to stay for them, financial security is what is allowing them to travel. And what of people who might be leaving for better money off-shore? Well, Labour’s tax cuts will increase the after-tax income of the average worker by 5%, assuming National can double that, they are effectively arguing that a 5% net pay increase will stop people emigrating (Labour’s tax cuts won’t stop emigration but their extra cuts will). Does anyone seriously believe that Kiwis are emigrating for 5% more pay?

In conclusion, not only is the billboard poorly designed, it carries a message that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. In that sense, it epitomises the National election strategy perfectly.

19 comments on “Dissection”

  1. MikeE 1

    Would you support tax increases then? in order to bring us into line with other countries?

    And if not, why not?

  2. MikeE. just as the fact that some countries have lower tax than nz is not itself an argument to drop tax here, neither is the fact that some countries have high tax in itself an argument to raise taxes. just because someone has a mullet is not in iself an argument i should get one.

  3. Tane 3

    You should, it’d complement your beard quite nicely.

  4. BeShakey 4

    I think you should probably read the article again Mike. The point is that NZers probably aren’t going overseas in search of lower taxes (if anything I suspect they are after higher wages and the Nats have been quiet on that of late). Whether we should move taxes at all, isn’t really relevant to the argument.

    Or do you just have an overwhelming desire to pose School C style questions without offerning anything constructive?

  5. Dom 5

    To be honest, posing School C style questions is still light years ahead of what occurs in most right wing blogs.

    Anyway, in my day School C was quite hard…mullets were in style then too come to think of it.

    A serious study of National’s billboard from a design point of view is also warranted. Their ‘Tui-style’ billboards were nothing less than brilliant – superb branding which drove home their messages and were not easy to lampoon or twist (though ACT gave it a good go). When you saw those billboards, you thought ‘National’.

    Here the design actually undercuts the message because it is so busy, and it is hard to envisage a ‘theme’ across their billboards here – certainly they won’t all be blue with planes in the back and since this billboard also buries the National logo that won’t anchor their subsequent billboards either. I’m finding it hard to imagine anyone seeing a slew of National billboards of this ilk during this election and thinking ‘National’.

    Plus anyone else think the two ‘fast forward’ symbols look like two ‘greater than’ symbols? So mathematically the bottom of the billboard reads ‘Choose a brighter future’ is greater than ‘Party Vote National’ – yep, choose a brighter future over voting National.

  6. My strategy for challenging this sound bite wouldn’t be to go into long detail, as has been done here, and try to fight a soundbite with reasoned argument.

    I’d just simply relentlessly repeat the fact in all available forums and media that the only developed countries that have lower taxation are South Korea and Mexico. And these aren’t the countries New Zealanders emigrate to (in fact, considering the number of Koreans in NZ, the opposite is true).

    Another often overlooked reason is that people go overseas because they think New Zealand is cold and gloomy (and then they go to London and find out how bad things can be in that regard). But the Government can’t do anything about the weather, you say… well, it can, kind of. Warmer drier houses and buildings will definitely help people’s experiences of NZ as a cold and damp country where everyone gets sick, and the Government is finally addressing this problem, albeit not as quickly as it should.

  7. Stephen 7

    So, HK is part of China now. Hum.

  8. Daveski 8

    Finally, back into some reasoned debate.

    I find it difficult to challenge the analysis – I don’t have the time or expertise to do so and the analysis appears on the surface to be at least reasonable.

    Given that it’s a billboard, let’s not try to infer too much from it.

    However, the billboard does bring together a number of perceptions – that NZ is overtaxed or that tax cuts have been delayed for too long and that the economy under performs Oz.

    The logical reasoning applied here suggests that the two are not necessarily linked.

    That’s not to say that the billboard campaign won’t resonate or at least register with the general populace particularly at a time of significant cost of living increases.

  9. sweetd 9

    Speaking of bad billboards, is labour going to bring back that odd, and slightly creapy one from 2005 of the baby held up by the strings playing with the sissors? I had a quick look in google images and couldn’t seem to fnd it. I am sure it is there somewhere.

  10. Tane 10

    sweetd, God I hope not. Like most of Labour’s stuff it’ll probably be dreadful, but I understand the ‘baby held back by red tape’ billboard is gone for good.

  11. Dom 11

    LOL Tane, Labour’s billboards have been uniformly terrible! Still, terrible is better than bland…annoying ads usually get remembered after all – bland ones sink without a trace.

  12. sweetd 12

    Yeah, as they say, there is only one thing worse than being talked about.

  13. Tane 13

    Dom, yeah, and the Greens’ last time weren’t much better either. Black text on a dark Green background, confusing, waffling text. By all rights that campaign should have ended Russel Norman’s career.

  14. sweetd 14

    Actually, thinking about it, the nats ad campaigns tend to be the ones remembered; dancing cosaks, kiwi/iwi, the telethon spend up. If it wasn’t for the EB last time, I wouldn’t even remember the greens leaflets.

    I am not looking forward to the ‘team x, all smiles, all working togethor’ style ads though, from both sides it is too false. I remember Bolger/nats had one of those one year, awfull.

  15. Dom 15

    Ugh – I never understand why the Left has such bad advertising given that a lot of creatives, myself included, are left supportive. Then again, maybe the Right just buys the good ideas off us…

    Yeah sweetd, that telethon ad was also memorable last time so kudos to whomever thought it up – suspect the Nats are going softer this time around in an effort to rope in the centrists that they desperately need if they wish to govern alone (that is their aim this election, no?). How else to explain the whole tampon-box billboard?

  16. Phil 16

    “I never understand why the Left has such bad advertising…”

    I’m reminded of the old adage; “A bad carpenter always blames his tools”

  17. rave 17

    Considering that there are around the same number of voters overseas eligible to vote as are now in Wellington, who are probably paying higher taxes and looking at what would attract them home, they need to be offered an attractive country to return to – namely higher wages, a greener country, better social services, and a more egalitarian ethos, as opposed to Key’s low wages, pollution, privatised social services, and greedy parasitic individualism. When will Labour put this up on its billboards?

  18. Stephen 18

    They could try something vaguely ‘positive’ I guess…if they have a ‘plan’?

  19. Kenny 19


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