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Fallow latest to slay privatisation arguments

Written By: - Date published: 8:02 am, February 11th, 2011 - 44 comments
Categories: privatisation - Tags:

Well, I think Brian Fallow has put the nails in the coffin of the Nats’ privatisation arguments. His column goes through each of the excuses that National has come up with for selling the family silver and none of them stack up.

“Reducing borrowing the easy, soft, cosmetic way by selling assets and shrinking both sides of the Crown’s balance sheet will make little or no difference to its net worth or its operating deficit.

As long as we get a fair price we will be no worse off’ isn’t much of an argument for selling anything.”

Especially in the current economic environment, when we are unlikely to get a good price.

“It would reduce the Crown’s future interest bill (all else being equal) but reduce its future revenue at the same time. The net effect might be positive, or negative, but either way it is unlikely to be material in the context of a $70 billion budget.”

It would almost certainly be negative. Our power companies make returns in excess of the cost of government borrowing and any private buyer would need them to make higher returns than that too – only sovereign governments get to borrow cheaply, everyone else has to make a higher return on capital.

“Treasury advice recently released takes it as a given that in the case of enterprises operating in competitive markets (as those proposed for sale are) their efficiency and performance are likely to be lower under Crown than private ownership.

“The commercial disciplines that come from investors risking their own money are difficult to replicate in the public sector.”

Is that thought-out advice or just brain-dead recitation of a quasi-religious belief?

But it is a fair bet that most of the shares in semi-privatised SOEs would end up being held by institutions like fund managers, iwi, the Cullen Fund, and overseas investors likewise entrusted with other people’s money.

They can hardly be said to be “risking their own money”.

Indeed. In fact, the ultimate risk would still lie with the taxpayer, who would have to bail out the companies after they asset strip them itno the ground.

“The SOE model requires their boards to run the enterprises as if they were privately owned. Where is the evidence in the case of the energy SOEs that the boards have failed in that statutory duty?”

Nowhere. You have to realise that asset sales is rooted in ideology, not logic. That’s why the excuses that are presented for privatisation don’t stand up to any critique. In fact, Bill English is going around simultaneously saying that the SOEs current returns are too high and that privatisation will make them higher. Even Treasury admits:

“there is little evidence to suggest privatisation would significantly improve the financial performance of many of the SOE companies”.

But don’t these SOEs need capital to grow? Capital they can’t get from the Crown (and which they wouldn’t get from a partial sale, since the proceeds go to the Crown)? No. Again, Treasury:

“This investment is funded from the SOEs’ own balance sheets, whilst maintaining dividends, indicating that Crown ownership is not starving these enterprises of capital.”

Finally, Fallow addresses this argument that asset sales would be good for the stockmarket, which would supposedly then make it cheaper for companies to borrow. He just has to quote Treasury:

“We think the gains would be modest,”

And that’s from privatisation-mad Treasury!

There’s one final thing Fallow doesn’t address. That is National’s argument that the Cullen Fund or ACC could buy up listed SOEs.

Remember, the SOEs are government-owned and so are the Cullen Fund and ACC. So, National is saying ‘lets get parts of the government to sell its holdings in private assets to buy different parts of the government and the cash will go to the government, which will then spend it to fund tax cuts’.

Get me of this money-go-round, I feel sick.

44 comments on “Fallow latest to slay privatisation arguments”

  1. Colonial Viper 1

    We step off this money go-round on Nov 26. LAB and Greens need to work together to present some real Left leaning policies to present to the country. LAB why so quiet on the TPP?

    • Salsy 1.1

      Exactly, no mention on their FB page, no mention on Red Alert and round two of the talks in Chile on 14 Feb. This is just the kind of deal that infuriates NZ’ers – coupled with asset sales. Nats underestimate NZers sense of patriotism and their fear and repulsion of US multinationals…

    • Nick C 1.2

      Doesn’t surprise me at all that Labour don’t have much to say on TPP, they probably have exactly the same position as National. Support for free trade has pretty much been bi-partisan in New Zealand since the 4th Labour government.

    • I have been advocating a Green /Labour coalition election arrangement for some time .Labour and Greens must show a united front. No more public statements mainly from Norman critizing Labour . We don’t agree with each other on everything but we are on the same side .The enemy is ACT/Nats . they always will be . We should have been able to include the Maori Party but they are the Brown Round-Table and are firmly in the Nats clutches . Turia and Sharples have double-crossed Maori ,Im glad to see the back of them.

      • Colonial Viper 1.3.1

        Norman and Turei have long figured that they should try and skim some votes off Labour.

      • Nick C 1.3.2

        Oh come on when it comes to Labour on the Greens, actions speak louder than words. For 9 years in government Labour consistently prefered pretty much anyone to them. Why should the Greens buddy up with Labour now when they are being led by a bastion of Rogernomics in the 1980’s?

        • orange whip?

          Sorry Nick it’s slipped my mind. When exactly did Labour have the option of governing with the Greens?

          • Nick C

            After 2002 election: Labour+Progressive was 54 seats. They could have C&S with Greens (who had 9 seats) to get a majority but instead they went with United Future (who had 7).

            After 2005 election: Labour gave United Future, NZ First and Progressives C&S and Ministries outside cabinet. Greens got C&S with fewer concessions and no ministers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_general_election,_2005

            • orange whip?

              2005 my arse. Labour 50, Greens 6. Needed to govern, 61. Not possible Nick.

              2002, yes you have a point there. Lab 52, Greens 9 could’ve made it.

              So to be accurate your comment should read “For 3 years in government Labour consistently prefered pretty much anyone to them”.

              • Nick C

                Yes but they could have gone with the Greens and UF or Greens and NZF in 2005. Maybe made Jennette Fitzimmons Minister of Conservation instead of making Winston Minister of Foriegn Affairs.

                • Pascal's bookie

                  As far as I recall both UF and NZF said that ‘no greens’ was a condition of their support.

                • orange whip?

                  Force NZF and UF into a coalition against their will?

                  I don’t think you really get this whole “democracy” thing at all, Nick.

                  • Nick C

                    “Force NZF and UF into a coalition against their will?

                    I don’t think you really get this whole “democracy” thing at all, Nick.”

                    Turn that around: Why should minor parties like NZF or UF force Labour into who they pick as their other coilition partner against their will? Labour had the mandate to form the government with HC as PM. And Peters/Dunne have shown their willingness to break various other promises if it’s in their interests.

                    I think you dont get this whole blogging thing OW, blithly insulting those who you are trying to argue with doesnt make you look smart, it makes you look stupid. Especially when the arguements are as weak as the ones that you regularly come up with.

                    • orange whip?

                      “Why should minor parties like NZF or UF force Labour into who they pick as their other coilition partner against their will?”

                      They can’t. And neither can any other party force them into a coalition. ACT had a few seats too. You think Labour should’ve been able to insist that they join the “coalition of the unwilling” too? If not, why not?

                      “Labour had the mandate to form the government with HC as PM.”

                      What bullshit Nick, there is no such thing as a “mandate to form a govt”. The mandate to govern comes with commanding a majority in the house – nothing more, nothing less.

                      Labour didn’t have one.

                      Labour + Greens didn’t have one either.

                      Labour + Prog + NZF + UF did.

                      That’s how our democratic system works, Nick. You have to have more than 50% or you don’t have a mandate. It’s that simple.

                      “blithly insulting those who you are trying to argue with doesnt make you look smart, it makes you look stupid.”

                      Well I was being a little facetious suggesting that you have no idea how our democratic system works, but face it Nick – your last comment quite literally proves that you don’t.

                      And if you think I look stupid explaining these very simple concepts to you, you’re probably right. It’s likely quite clear to others that I’m wasting my time.

        • Colonial Viper

          Did you just say that Goff is a “bastion”? 😛

  2. tc 2

    Even the born blue commentators are becoming tired of Sideshow John’s emporer’s clothes routine jeez the bloke can’t even get his own personal gains from his own tax cuts correct which just shows how ignorant and out of touch he is, but then show me a financier who isn’t.

    With the career public servant Blinglish, my way or the highway Findlayson and old technology Joyce just to name a few of the so called movers and shakers the quicker we rid ourselves of these self serving haters n wreckers the sooner we can get on with extraditing ourselves from the downward spiral they’ve manufactured with wreckless tax cuts offset with damaging GST increases.

  3. RedLogix 3

    The ultimate question to ask is simple:

    “What would happen if this enterprise fails in any way?”

    If the answer is; the public sector would have to bail it out… then the private sector has no business pretending to own it.

    • vto 3.1

      Exactly RedL. Like banks with their implied (and express) taxpayer end-of-the-line base support, such enterprises are directly state supported. Hence ownership benefits should accrue.

  4. Harry 4

    Some are suggesting that asset sales are another “kick the tyres” exercise. So if they don’t do it what will be the next ploy?

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      Well the Tories never change. So it will be a variation on

      1) Asset sales.
      2) Tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations
      3) Wage and workers rights suppression
      4) Benefit cuts/increase beneficiary distress
      5) Reduction of social services
      6) Concentration of power and influence amongst the Right to Rule
      7) Corporate welfare
      8 ) Increasing private debt/recreating an asset bubble

      I am guessing that NAT has been taking international advice on all of the above.

    • Pascal's bookie 4.2

      I reckon they mean it Harry.

      JK hisself has been fronting this one. If they was kicking tyres it woulda been gerry or some other lesser light. If they back down on this, JK looks like a chump, and that’s been priority #1 to avoid. (ask Dickie Worth or Melissa Lee)

      • Puddleglum 4.2.1


        Key’s strategy has been to march boldly and unexpectedly out onto the end of the high diving board above a long drop (well, you know what I mean) and a cold pool. He’s puffed out his bare, manly chest and the crowd beneath has gasped in wonder. Leader writers have barely contained their admiration for his courage, his un-politician like calm in facing what no politician would dare face, his determination to boldly go where none have gone before – all for the sake of us!

        We all wait with baited breath and, and, and … he cringes and timidly tip-toes backwards from the edge hugging himself and shielding his nipples from the cold.

        I don’t think so – he’s taken his gamble and has to see it through.

        The old rhetorical cover for his flip-flops – that he’s a man brave enough to change his mind – won’t work with this one. It goes to the core of the myth and so can’t be withdrawn. In fact, the myth has been created in order to do just this kind of thing. If the public turn against National because of this (and similar policies) it means the myth wasn’t constructed as well as he and his handlers would like to think it is.The myth will have imploded under the weight of New Zealanders’ gut instincts over-riding their faith in him.

        anti-spam: Pop – goes the weasel?

  5. Nick C 5

    “The SOE model requires their boards to run the enterprises as if they were privately owned. Where is the evidence in the case of the energy SOEs that the boards have failed in that statutory duty?”

    Labour have signalled an intention to order SOE’s to lower power prices if they get back into government. Classic example of the sort of political influence that the government is trying to prevent in future.

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      Labour have signalled an intention to order SOE’s to lower power prices if they get back into government. Classic example of the sort of political influence that the government is trying to prevent in future.

      The Govt using political influence to help people pay their power bills, instead of extracting maximum monies and consequently leaving tens (hundreds) of thousands in energy poverty is, according to you…a bad thing?

      I think that National MP was correct. National really don’t see their job as making NZ’ers day to day lives any easier.

      • Nick C 5.1.1

        Dumb response CV: The point i’m making is that if that policy were to be implemented, it would be a failure of the statutory duty of SOEs to run as if they were private companies. Perhaps you reject the assumption that there should be such a statutory duty, but that doesn’t disprove my point.

        It’s a bad policy regardless: Everyone uses power so you are giving the discount to the rich as well as the poor (in fact the rich almost certainly use more power). You are better off with a policy like a guarenteed minimum family income which targets low income families and allows gives them more money to spend on things such as power.

        Plus the mechanism that Labour have said they will use for the policy (taking lower dividends) is almost a guarenteed failure. The company can use the extra money to do things like pay executives more rather than lower power prices.

        • Colonial Viper

          I’m not disagreeing that the details of implementation will have to be examined once LAB is in power. The concept remains simple however: LAB will not have power generators extract maximum profits from consumers for Government, and will expect those margin reductions to be passed directly to those consumers.

          One assumes that the power companies will not be bloating and paying their own execs big bonuses if they have to keep their margins tight.

          Also the guaranteed min family income concept you raise is a good one, and may indeed be the better way ahead.

          • Nick C

            Interesting that you support that. Did you know that Roger Douglas tried to impliment a GMFI in the 1988 Budget, but Lange scrapped it?

            • Colonial Viper

              Yeah I head Douglas was a backer of it. Wouldn’t really have trusted his specific development and management of it but there is a logic to the proposal.

      • KJT 5.1.2

        Power companies both public and private took monopoly rents from the economy of over 4 billion dollars. That is a lot of extra expense on business and private consumers.

  6. randal 6

    blah blah blah.
    selling stae assets is solely about paying off political supporters with earning assets.
    and they are giving something away that does not rightly belong to them.
    time to start calling a spade a spade.
    privatisation is theft of social assets and thats that.

  7. Godder 7

    Farrow’s column actually said that if the government isn’t going to sell assets then it must cut spending in order to reduce borroing. Farrow describes this as the “real” way to reduce borrowing

    I note you dont refer to that aspect of Farrow’s column in your post Marty G – can we take it from your strident criticism of National’s plan to sell assets that you instead support cutting spending?

    • I noticed that too, in the article.

      There’s a few ways of dealing with debt: Sell assets; reduce spending; increase income and pay it off quicker.

      But there’s another, prior, question that needs to be addressed first: Is there a government debt problem?

      Fallow says:

      To address the problem – the Government’s contribution to woefully inadequate national saving – it has to reduce borrowing the hard way, the real way, by reining in its spending

      The issue is whether Fallow, or anyone else, is correct to say that the Government’s ‘contribution to woefully inadequate national saving’ is itself currently inadequate. In fact, Fallow (and others) beg the question of whether or not the government is making such a contribution.

      Given the very low (by international standards) government debt to GDP ratio the response to Fallow and others could simply be that the government is not contributing to ‘woefully inadequate national saving’.

      If I have a debt that I am more than able to service and am using it for purposes that I have decided add to the quality of my experience of life but my neighbours have irresponsibly put themselves well over their heads into debt, do you think that I should lower my debt in order to alter the “woefully inadequate” savings in my street?

      So far as I can tell from historical and international comparisons, the government has been very responsible in relation to what debt it has and in accumulating assets. It is NOT making a contribution to “woefully inadequate” savings. It is private citizens and companies whose savings are “woefully inadequate”. Why should the government, and those of us who depend upon and use its services, bail out the profligate borrowers in the private sector when ‘we’ have been responsible borrowers?

      • Nick C 7.1.1

        I would like to know whether or not New Zealand has a full employment deficit or not: has the Treasury done any analysis on this? Thats probably the best way of working it out.

      • Colonial Viper 7.1.2

        the Clark/Cullen government has been very responsible in relation to what debt it has and in accumulating assets. It is NOT making a contribution to “woefully inadequate” savings.

        Fixed it for you.

        • Puddleglum

          Thanks, CV. It’s what I meant.

          On that, I’ve noticed in today’s The Press editorial the second appearance of a line run the day before that it was the 1990s National-led governments that started this process of debt reduction and the Labour-led government simply ‘continued’ the process or – more weakly still – kind of allowed it to carry on.

          Looks like a deliberate line to undermine the notion that the debt reduction actually carried out by Labour might have been part of a deliberate economic strategy.

  8. Jum 8

    Key made it clear in parliament that if National is returned to Government that is the mandate they need to sell off whatever they like of our assets. Whether they say they will or they won’t dependent on the public feedback is just a sideshow.

    But we already knew that.

  9. sunny 9

    Hello all, I want to thank everyone for the education I have been receiving reading your blogs. I am an American that is considering looking for another country to live in. For many of us in the US, New Zealand has been thought of in a very favorable light. Most here think NZ has kind people caring of their environment. I have been very surprised at how similar the problems are between our countries. I had not realized that big money was also trying to destroy NZ. Take it from me you do not want to go down the road USA has gone. Our government is basically a mafia run by big money Wall Street criminals. Sadly our Media is controlled by those same money interests with Rupert Murdock and Fox news (Faux news as some call it). The US has become an aggressor nation. If you turn on the media (which is almost all right wing) you will get a 24 hr a day barrage of hate directed at the working class. What is crazy is that working class people agree with this garbage; they have become brainwashed fools. Sadly I noticed that on the NZ blogs there was a similar flavor to our American blogs. For example, I read a blog where a person had commented on the NZ government bullying through legislation. Next there was a reply from a “TightyRighty” who calls the poster various uncouth names and blathers about stupidly. Why is it Conservatives can not have an intellectual conversation ; it awalys gets lowered to name calling . It is so sad to see. I am curious to see if NZ has been infected by Murdock and other right wing big money media. We have a man named Rush Limbaugh in the US that has been spewing hate on the radio for over twenty years now. You can follow the decline of our country into ignorance and selfishness with the minor popularity of this show. While there are not a majority that listen to him, they are the loudest and more crazy of our population as well as gun wielding scary. We has lost civility and compassion as a nation. Good friends that once were sensible and now listen to these programs are full of hate and racist. I don’t want to make it sound like all American’s are awful, but too many have gone to the dark side. If you want to be a greedy jerk, come to America. We won’t prosecute you, in fact you can be governor of a state if you like. My state of Florida just elected a guy to Governor that robbed the federal government of BILLIONS of dollars. He was fined the most ever for Medicare fraud: 2 billion dollars, but of course no jail time. And then we elect this scum to governor. He is presently gutting all public programs, privatizing every thing to give his buddies contracts, and taking us back to the stone age socially and financially. Can’t forget to mention tax breaks for the Millionaires while raising the taxes on workers.
    So is New Zealand still a country worth considering for a reasonable, hard working guy, that wants his neighbors to enjoy a good life with health care and relative safety as himself? Appreciate your time reading this and any comments. Sunny

    • Colonial Viper 9.1

      Yep, NZ is still a top place, find yourself a good town and a good community to hang out with, a place with a slow pace and where people have more time for others.

      One measure we are definitively still better than the US IMO – very very few handguns in circulation…

      Our Right Wingers here do need to stop learning shite from Fox News, Limbaugh and co. however.

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