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Pre-budget roundup

Written By: - Date published: 7:03 am, May 19th, 2011 - 25 comments
Categories: bill english, budget 2011, economy - Tags: ,

So, today is Budget day. The big stuff has all been pretty well signposted, tinkering with KiwiSaver, Working for Families, and student loan eligibility. The devil will be in the details of all the cuts that get made to try and limit the damage in health and education.

I was going to do a roundup of the best pre-budget punditry, but I find there isn’t much need to go beyond two excellent pieces by Gordon Campbell and Tim Watkin. Gordon Campbell writes:

On the lead-up to the Budget

Throughout his government’s first term, the role of Prime Minister John Key has been to be the bringer of good news, the guy who carries the ‘times are tough but the future is rosy’ message – while Finance Minister Bill English has been the bad news bearer, underlining the need to tighten our belts, for eternity.

Hopefully, both of them remember the last time that National launched an austerity Budget, and Ruth Richardson sent the economy into a near-death spiral. Evidently, Don Brash retains no memory of seeing “The Mother of All Budgets” before, and he’d like to play it again and see how it ends.

The Key vs English contrary impulses are set to collide on Thursday when the bad times are to be painted as being so dire as to justify cutbacks in some big ticket public schemes (Kiwisaver, Working for Families) and require further job losses among public servants – but without snuffing out the recovery that Key keeps telling us is just around the bend and beyond the hill once the combo of high commodity prices, Rugby World Cup spending and insurance money for the Christchurch rebuild begins to work its magic.

Interesting that none of the elements of the magic combo are any of National’s doing.

Key is used to decking the same objects in wildly different garb, depending on context. Routinely, the level of government debt is touted in overseas contexts by Key as one of the jewels in the crown of the New Zealand economy at only 34% of GDP while – domestically – the same figure is portrayed as a scandal that needs be pared back below 30% as soon as possible.

In essence, Thursday’s Budget will be a collision between ideology – its always a good time to shrink central government and try to drown it in the bath – and a reality that doesn’t square convincingly with the austerity message. …

On one level the changes [to KiwiSaver] are likely to entail a 180 degree reversal of the cuts to employer contributions that the same government recently introduced. How can this zigzag possibly be rationalised? Simultaneously, Key hinted at this week’s press conference that employers may be able to treat Kiwisaver contributions as being at least partially in lieu of wage increases to employees. In other words, the changes are shuffling the shells under which the government is hiding a shrinking number of beans.

And from Tim Watkin:

It’s the end of the world, and I feel fine

So, in two days time Bill English will announce that we have the largest deficit EVER by a New Zealand government. All round the world folk have seen stories of how our deficit will be $15-17 billion. Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Certainly, no-one will want to sit back and admire such a deficit. Both National and Labour are inclined to lead the breast-beating, for opposite political reasons. National wants to justify cuts to government spending, Labour wants to damn the government for its economic mismanagement.

So the message has been that our economy is in dire straits and drastic action (cuts or a change of government, depending on who’s spinning) is required.

But is it really that bad? We’ve got our biggest population ever and we’ve just been through – or we’re arguably still at the tail end of – one of the largest economic crises the world has known. So you’d expect the government to have spent more. …

Thing is, we’re not. Like Greece, that is. The government debt has never been a problem; indeed it hit historic lows under Michael Cullen. We bottomed out in 2008 with a public debt that was just 20% of GDP. (There are several sources for this, each slightly different. But here are the OECD figures as one example).

Watkin then looks at historical government debt, finding it as high as 248% of GDP in 1933, and remaining up to 95% as late as 1951.

So yes, it [debt] has climbed again. But that borrowing has kept the economy ticking over, which is what a responsible government with a low debt should do in tough times. It has stimulated a flat economy and carried the private sector. …

As I’ve written before, much of the supposed National-led government stimulus was in fact started under Labour; that which wasn’t was essentially some roads and the extra tax cuts. And those tax cuts were just about the most scatter-gun, favour-the-rich form of stimulus any government could have chosen.

My worry now is that the government seems to be signalling that its stimulus days are over. John Key’s pre-Budget speech left the impression that the government’s heavy lifting is done and it now reckons it’s time to stop spending and let the private sector take over. The PM repeatedly mocked Cullen’s stewardship during the 2000s and praised the growth and economic management of the 1990s.

We can all remember the unemployment, wage stagnation and cuts to public services that passed for “growth” in the ’90s, not to mention the lack of savings and higher public debt. And I’m not yet convinced that the economy is healthy enough to take the strain. It seems risky to me to whip the crutches away so soon. …

I think Watkin is giving the Nats a bit too much credit. How much has tax cuts to the rich really “stimulated” the economy? The money could have been much better spent.

Anyway, in a few hours, Bill English gets to deliver his third budget. Let’s hope, for the good of the country, that it is his last!

25 comments on “Pre-budget roundup ”

  1. joe bloggs 1

    You’re way behind the times R0B.

    David Cunliffe’s already polled the electorate on how the budget has affected them, and a resounding 88% of voters pointed out the budget left them better off.

    • Can't fool me 1.1

      Bah! That poll was hijacked by the douchebags from Kiwiblog.

      • joe bloggs 1.1.1

        Clearly the right have far more douchebags than the left – that’s consistent with the political pollsters who have National streets ahead of Labour, but a rather unkind way to refer to the majority of the electorate…

        The raving lefty fan club that frequents this site had every opportunity to load the worse off vote to counteract the effects of the Penguin’s voters. Or don’t you have enough supporters to rally?

        As for Labour lame explanation – it was a computer glitch???!!! Oh spare us the agony of such a pathetic excuse!

    • Colonial Viper 1.2

      and a resounding 88% of voters pointed out the budget left them better off.

      That is clearly a poll of the rich Chinese vote, who indeed have been left better off by the NAT budget.

      • Jim Nald 1.2.1

        Better off at the expense of their children and grandchildren.
        Oh, and at this rate under Nats, there’s no future in NZ.
        They had better be putting aside money now –
        to spend on flying to Oz to visit their children and baby-sit their grandchildren there.

        • Colonial Viper 1.2.1.1

          I think the older generation who can will also consider moving to Australia – not just because the next generation has already gone there, but because they can afford decent public healthcare over there and decently paid professional clinicians. Have already been reading cases of that.

          And why would our future talented young study in NZ if student loans are not interest free any more? Might as well go study at an Australian university for the same rates as an Australian local, and enjoy a wider range of more specialised courses, better teaching facilities and better technology.

          NZ = Mexico of the South Pacific. Working hard on pushing New Zealanders across the ditch.

  2. PeteG 2

    How much has tax cuts to the rich really “stimulated” the economy?

    How much has tax cuts prevented a worse recession?
    How much of the tax cuts have gone towards reducing private debt?

    • RobC 2.1

      Back to the old tricks of answering a question with more questions, the first being a hypothetical one at that, one that cannot be answered.

      What was it again? Oh that’s right, pissing in the wind. 😀

      • PeteG 2.1.1

        Just responding to your old trick, making a claim that no one knows the answer to.

        Labour legs must be getting very wet.

    • Colonial Viper 2.2

      You’re absolutely right of course, more tax cuts means more borrowing from China. More borrowing from China means that we have to pay the Chinese more and more of an income stream of interest payments, which helps their economy.

      So our tax cuts, helps prevent the Chinese economy going into recession, because we get to send more ad more money over to them.

      You’re so fucking smart.

      How much of the tax cuts have gone towards reducing private debt?

      That’s handy. The rich pricks who got the most from the tax cuts, get to pay off their million dollar mansions even faster by pushing through cuts to public services.

      You really are a genius, chump.

      • joe bloggs 2.2.1

        I take my hat off to you CV – you really have mastered the politics of envy!

    • ZeeBop 2.3

      >How much has tax cuts to the rich really “stimulated” the economy?

      How much has tax cuts prevented a worse recession?
      How much of the tax cuts have gone towards reducing private debt?

      Farmers, NZ, sells lots of primary product overseas. Milk, logs, etc.
      Those profits need to be returned, remitted, and so there must be
      someone on the other side of that currency trade.

      Step in the debtors, the debtor borrows money at a higher rate
      (the risk premium) and pays in NZ dollars. So in walks the
      currency trader who takes those NZ dollars and gives them to
      farmers, exporters. And in the foreign country takes the
      farming profits in US$ and gives it to the lender as his interest.

      The tax cuts had very little, or negative effect, for most people in NZ.
      They went overwhelmingly to the top earners and will be paid for by
      service cuts to most people in NZ if National is returned in Nov.

      Now the problem. Globally the west has borrowed because of monetary
      reform of Conservatives parties, who saw decades of cheap oil and
      knew the economy would have to grow and so needed lubricating
      (easier credit). But Conservatives then told themselves not to look
      at what comes next (except to there most loyal richest contributors).
      Oil peaking and then trailing off.

      So basically the west has huge debts, and governments claiming they
      can export their way out of the crisis. And the east has huge calls on
      value that they don’t want to give up (become poorer again), that
      would harm their own exports if they started importing western goods,
      and now the icing on the cake, there isn’t enough resources globally
      to furnish their call on value if they did call it. And hell, the west can
      pay it back anyway. (well unless it paid back in some services rather
      than goods and why its astonishing how governments are letting a
      few media mogals hold back the media revolution, utube on steroids,
      broadband, tens of thousands of channels, massive decentralization
      of attention to a myriad of sources).

      So that’s the NZ economy, and the global crisis. So now to answer
      the questions. Did tax cut avert recession? No, spending rising
      would have temporarily helped relieved the recession. Tax cuts merely
      gave foreign banks more breathing room, and forced kiwis to
      cut back and start saving if they could, extending the recession
      (National figured kiwis would not change their habits and start
      saving or cutting back).

      Tax cuts merely extended the time that private debt could be rolled
      over. Eventually the snake in the global fiscal imbalance has to be
      faced. NZ could be hit hard when energy inputs to farming become
      prohibitively expensive, exposed as it is to the global market and
      ease to which foreign domiciled can own NZ, without a National
      concern to the future freedom, economic and social of kiwis.

      Independence.

      A CGT would mean kiwis would expand the home economy,
      draw back expats, and start a massive revival in NZ, as capital
      gain would be harder won and so worth holding on to rather
      than selling to the world cheap.

      Oh, and National suk.

  3. Herodotus 3

    “… All round the world folk have seen stories of how our deficit will be $15-17 billion…”
    I am still confused. We borrow $300m lately increased to $380m/week. Now about 1/2 is to cover refinancing (as stated o a few posts here). So then we are just extending/rolling over our debt profile, the remaining $130m/week is to cover cash deficiencies. Now $130*52 = about $8b. I am aware of increases/decreases of investments (I take giving world wide markets these to be gains) So where is this other $8b being sourced from?

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      You can’t be expecting NAT numbers to make sense here, when their main goal is to manufacture a crisis to justify their enriching of the already wealthy.

    • RobC 3.2

      Herodotus, my understanding is the operating deficit is in the order of $16 billion.

      However, the Govt also has investments/assets. I believe (mainly thanks to the Cullen fund) the actual red ink is somewhere around $10 billion for the year.

      • Herodotus 3.2.1

        From my rough numbers I get about a $10b cash deficit which should be reduced by gains of investments NZSF Cullen etc. There is additional refinancing as EQC has to withdraw monies lent to govt and the govt has to go offshore to replace this. So as you and I have a similar viewpoint where is the other $6-$8b gone? This is not Africa,the Americas or the Middle East where monies get depositied into Switzerland ;-).
        So again if we have a deficit of $15b and we are borrowing $8b to cover the cash issues where are the missing monies??????

        • Herodotus 3.2.1.1

          This link has helped solve part of my problem, but why has the $6b Chch EQ in the accounts, from what I am aware the only cost nationally has been EQC payouts to the 1st quake, and I am 100% positive that $6b has not been paid out, so in that case we could have in the future operating surpluses but still requiring to borrow as we fund the Chch rebuild. That wuld be a great headline. Surplus but borrowings increase.
          Nice to see something easily understood and conveying a message simlpy. Well done David 🙂
          http://blog.labour.org.nz/index.php/2011/05/19/budget-faq-6-why-the-debt-hole/comment-page-1/#comment-177387

  4. hobbit 4

    “How much has tax cuts to the rich really “stimulated” the economy? The money could have been much better spent.”

    It’s. Not. Your. Money.

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      That’s correct. It’s not your money. It’s. Our. Money. Money which belongs to the public, to the common wealth of New Zealanders. By stealing it, you are stealing from all of us, and from the country.

      • Jim Nald 4.1.1

        And our future generations.
        The ones who are left here and not already in Oz or another country.

    • south paw 4.2

      How ironic hobbit’s statement is when you consider rich pricks like Eric Watson, Mark Hotchin and the others whose self enriching activities don’t end up in the headlines.

      • joe bloggs 4.2.1

        Not forgetting Phil Goff, Cunliffe, Mallard, Hodgson, Dyson, and all the other Labour hacks – all of them leaching decent six figure salaries off the sweat of the workers.

        If your bosses are true ideologues they should take pay cuts and earn $30k a year.

  5. Anthony 5

    Tax cuts could have been stimulatory (to the retail sector anyway) if they went to the part of the population that actually has to spend them. They were upside down.

    National do live in upside down land though.

  6. RobC 6

    Rob, you missed the best line from Campbell’s piece:

    “Treasury forecasts – which have about the same predictive accuracy as your daily horoscope” 😀

  7. randal 7

    dont diss the treasury forecasts. they are made to assist the manques and parvenus extract every last penny they can before they get booted out.

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