What comes first – the economy or the society? The only point of having a good economic policy is because you have a strong vision for society to which the economy contributes to build.
The media keep saying David Cunliffe has a left wing economic policy. Actually he has a left wing social policy which is built on the best traditions of the Labour Party egalitarian values. To deliver on that vision the Party needs to have a strong left wing economic policy but one that is aligned and contributes to that social vision. It seems to me that that is what it is doing, putting the social vision first.
Cunliffe set it out nicely, in short, on the radio yesterday – where people have a fair go regardless of their background and that fair go includes having a warm secure home, a job that pays a decent wage and live in an environment that will be sustainable for generations to come. This is a social not an economic vision – the economy serves the community and not the other way around. Building an economy that provides for this requires jobs growth (e.g R&D support, training policy, supporting a diverse industrial base, a tax system that builds the productive economy, strong public services etc etc), labour market regulation (e.g allowing for fair distribution of income in wages), housing policies that deal with supply ( e.g. both good state housing supply and support for low cost housing), and a green growth agenda (e.g R&D, investment in public transport, supporting green business innovation etc etc).
This really is the fundamental difference with the current Government. It has no vision for society – it has no concept of it. It only has an economic policy and that operates in a vaccum. The Governments bottom line is that business has conditions to grow (and only some businesses actually) regardless of who benefits from that growth, how that growth is achieved or at whose expense (including through tax funded subsidies, removal of employment rights, low and unsustainable wages, unacceptable workplace accident rates, environmental damage and dodgy favouritism like in the Chorus, Warner and Sky deals).
This economic policy is operated regardless of why it might grow and what it contributes to a good society. It has an economic policy without a social vision. Whereas Labour thinks the Chicken and Egg are mutually reinforcing – National is all Chicken.
The problem the Government has however is that apart from this approach being socially unsustainable, its economic policy is failing because a strong society and good economy are inter-connected, and in the wake of this failure it is causing irreparable damage to the society. Stories of families unable to pay for prescriptions (charges up), new home buyers now paying higher interest rates than others (nothing to address the housing crisis leaving it to crude measures by the Reserve Bank), the privatisation of our beautiful schools, university standards falling (have you notice how the fall in international rankings by Universities is of no big concern yet national standards in schools is of the utmost importance?), and numerous other social ills (unemployment etc) is disasterous, and the cost of living outstripping even middle income families in the absence of a system for fair wages distribution is now the reality.
A conversation about what an economic policy looks like within a broader vision for society and the environment is long overdue and now that it is happening – it gives me hope!