The political Right have many dishonest but effective catch phrases. One of the most common is “the politics of envy”. They trot it out in response to any attempt by the Left to implement a more progressive tax system or close tax loopholes. They’re trotting it out now in response to Labour’s latest proposals. Check out the blogs and comment sections, a mindless chorus of “politics of envy! politics of envy!”.
They get their lines from the top of course. John Key likes to claim that “we’re into the politics of aspiration – my opponents are into the politics of envy”. It is repeated by other politicians on the Right: “Helen Clark’s 39 cent envy tax”. It is repeated by commentators who should know better: “What Labour is doing is invoking the politics of envy”. Of course it is repeated by the poodles serving the lower end of the market: “This is the politics of envy, not economic efficiency if they bring back a 39% tax rate”. And from there on down in to the comments sections and chatter.
It’s all a bunch of dishonest bullshit. A dog whistle designed to head off rational debate, and replace it with self-righteous rationalisation. Clever political framing based on emotional manipulation. In short, the “politics of envy” is a crock.
Even a moment’s thought should make clear that most of the Lefties proposing progressive taxation have nothing at all to be “envious” of. Labour politicians are proposing a new top tax rate, but they have high incomes. They are proposing a CGT, but they own assets. They earn plenty, and they will pay more tax under their own proposals. How is that envy exactly? (Given the demographics of commenters at The Standard, plenty of the Lefties here supporting these proposals are likewise high income earners). Far from envy, what Labour and the Greens are proposing is the politics of compassion.
If the Left was inclined to be just as dishonest we should fight fire with fire and get down and dirty on “the politics of greed”. Key, the Nats, and all their repeaters, are quite happy to shift wealth from the poorest to the rich. Their tax cuts massively favoured the already well off. Their GST swindle hit the poor again. Now they are fighting a capital tax that is almost universal in the OECD. It isn’t “aspiration” at all, it’s simply petty, naked, insatiable greed. The mindless desire to consume all that they can and to hell with everyone else. For is not the love of money the root of all evil? Yeah – those are the lines the Left should be running!
No, I’m not seriously proposing that we follow the Right into the gutter. We could, but as Lefties we’ve got more intellectual honesty than that. (Too bad that honesty can be a bit of a liability in politics.) But what we should do is oppose the “politics of envy” meme more forcefully wherever we see it. Call it what it is. It’s bullshit.
If they say “the politics of envy vs. aspiration”
then we say “the politics of compassion vs. greed”