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Treating the voters like children

Written By: - Date published: 9:45 am, June 13th, 2008 - 30 comments
Categories: john key, national, slippery, tax - Tags:

Keith Holyoake used to say “tell the people, trust the people”; be honest about the benefits, trade-offs, and costs of policies and trust the people to judge you in an adult manner. Central to Brand Key, however, is playing to voters’ baser desires, especially greed, and fomenting juvenile beliefs, including that it is possible to have ones cake and eat it. For instance, National would have you believe:

  • The Government just takes tax and keeps it in a pile somewhere (which Michael Cullen swims in every morning, a la Scrooge McDuck)
  • Public servants don’t do any work
  • We can have massive tax cuts without any cost in borrowing or spending cuts
  • We can improve health and education without spending any money
  • We can boost money supply through big tax cuts and borrowing without boosting inflation
  • We can reduce carbon emissions without anyone paying for emitting carbon
  • We can reduce emigration without raising wages, only offering tax cuts
  • We can improve productivity without spending more money on R&D and infrastructure

A responsible party has to argue for balancing priorities; for making the necessary sacrifices  (eg tax) to gain good outcomes (public services). It’s not sexy but it’s reality. It asks people to consider government as adults; National wants them to behave like children and believe in magic.

They think they can get away with it because, as Key claims, ‘the public can’t grasp … very complex things’.  I have greater faith in people. They will see through the trick.

[a useful side-effect for National of this strategy is that it lowers the sophisication of political debate to the point where media compare parties, like they are pepsi and coke, and only ask which is on special this week]

30 comments on “Treating the voters like children”

  1. erikter 1

    What a cheek! SP complaining about treating the voters like children.

    That from a staunch supporter of a government that has deemed appropriate to legislate on almost every aspect of New Zealand life. For example, check the latest attempt to pass law on breaks for breastfeeding mothers, which is normal and common practice already.

    Your Labour partisanship is beyond belief.

    [I’m not a Labour supporter, but I do support leftwing government and in nz at present, that will entail a Labour-led govt. You need to be more sophisicated in you understanding of such things. And I just can’t understand why you would oppose a right to breatfeed at work. Should women only be allowed to breatfeed if they are lucky enough to work for an employer that permits it? Also, is that the worst thing they’ve done? Giving mroe rights to new mothers? The horror. SP]

  2. MikeE 2

    Now I’m no National supporter but..

    * The Government just takes tax and keeps it in a pile somewhere (which Michael Cullen swims in every morning, a la Scrooge McDuck)

    No, the government take tax and spends it without much accountability on projects which do not neccersarily result in value for the person paying the tax. I’m sure a national government would do the same thing though!

    * Public servants don’t do any work
    No, that public servants do “do work”, but that work isn’t neccesarily the work that is needed, and the vast majority of that work could be more effieciently farmed out to the private sector on a user pays basis.

    * We can have massive tax cuts without any cost in borrowing or spending cuts

    No, we do need to make spending cuts.

    * We can improve health and education without spending any money

    Without spending any more taxpayers money. Getting rid of the public health and education sectors monopoly on funding would be a good start, allowing competition, and equal access to both public and private offerings, where it is based on the needs of the customer.

    * We can boost money supply through big tax cuts and borrowing without boosting inflation

    How is increased government spending LESS inflationary than private spending or private saving?

    * We can reduce carbon emissions without anyone paying for emitting carbon

    How about keeping reinvesting the money spent on paying for emissions on R and D rather than exporting it to countries whose economies have collapsed or worse still exporting our emissions to countries with worse environmental records.

    * We can reduce emigration without raising wages, only offering tax cuts

    Yes, we can. If people can keep more of their money, this is far more efficient than forcing employers to pay more, and as a bonus, with lower tax this gives employers more money which they can spend on increased wages.

    * We can improve productivity without spending more money on R&D and infrastructure

    I don’t think anyone is sayig this. They might be arguing as to whether it should be public or private money on R and d or infrastructure.

  3. T-rex 3

    Interesting that Key “doesn’t do plan B’s”.

    How does he explain his constant flipflops?

    “I don’t do plan B’s (but my plan A’s could put a yoga master to shame)”

    edit – that wasn’t directed at any of what you said Mike

  4. “No, that public servants do “do work’, but that work isn’t neccesarily the work that is needed, and the vast majority of that work could be more effieciently farmed out to the private sector on a user pays basis.”
    – see this is just a bald assertion. you’ve got nothing to back it up.

    every successful model for reducing carbon emissions and other pollutants (sulfur dioxide, for example) has involved putting the price of pollution onto the polluter. National has refused to do that.

  5. Tim 5

    Erikter: “For example, check the latest attempt to pass law on breaks for breastfeeding mothers, which is normal and common practice already.” – Been to a minimum wage workplace recently? Do you have any evidence to back this up? Are you a working mother?

    It’s unfair to say that an attempt to improve working women’s lives, increase their participation in the workforce, give them choice about the relationship between paid work and mothering and remove the stigma of workplace breastfeeding is seen to be part of the “nanny state” (pun intended). A Government’s job is to pass laws.

  6. Pacman 6

    “..see this is just a bald assertion. you’ve got nothing to back it up.”

    I will back it up for him. I am trying to start a business in an existing building in a zone that is permitted by the district plan. It coplies with all the rules and will open. It would have taken 3 weeks to be up and running but will end up taking 4 months. The result of the regulations will not change the operation of the business but have added 3 months of opportunity cost and tens of thousands of dollars in consultant and council costs.

    How is that not wasteful?

    [New Zealand is rated the second easiest place in the world to establish a business. There is a need for regulation around the establish of businesses for a variety of reasons, which you will be aware of having dealt with the regulations, and New Zealand’s process is very efficent. The existance of regulation is not in and of itself waste. SP]

  7. rjs131 7

    How is the electoral finance act not treating voters like children. The entire premise behind that is that voters are too moronic to make decisions themselves, and need to be protected from overt influence by “big business” and “religious sects”. If believing that voters cannot see behind spin and propaganda put out in support of a political party, and make their own decision is not treating voters like children, then i dont know what is.

  8. T-rex 8

    Hey rjs131 – which beer do you think is classier? Heineken or Tui?

  9. rjs131 9

    Im not sure whether that is a trick question – heineken is marketed as a classier drink. The fact it doesnt come at keg/swapper crates indicates it is classier beer,

  10. rjs131. which shows that marketing does influence people’s perceptions. I think we can both agree that huge piles of secret money buying marketing to influence people’s perceptions of politics in the way that your perceptions of beer have ben influenced is not healthy in a democracy.

    Acknowledging that marketing works and should not have an overwhelming influence in the democratic process, and saying that people have the right to know who is trying to influence their vote is not the same as treating voters like children by running silly lines that encourage the belief that all the government does is waste money and we can all get rich off tax cuts.

  11. T-rex 11

    It’s sort of a trick. My point is that it’s classier purely because people have been told it’s classier – and it doesn’t come out at keg parties so often because people think of it as classier, which in turn MAKES it classier.

    Marketing works, otherwise companies wouldn’t spend billions of dollars on it anually.

    I don’t think voters are anything like ‘moronic’ if they fall for spin and propaganda – it’s a hothouse full of psychology and marketing experts up against someone who doesn’t even really have time to focus on the issue. Which is why I think it’s a good idea to limit the amount of money people can spend hiring said spin and propaganda experts to do this deceiving.

    That aside – at the end of the day tui just tastes like shit anyway.

  12. MikeE: “spends it without much accountability on projects which do not neccersarily result in value for the person paying the tax”

    Spot on comment and here is the proof from 2009 Treasury forecasts:

    Ministry of Women’s Affairs $5,114,000
    Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs $7,953,000
    Te Puni Kokiri $189,600,000
    Ministry for Culture and Heritage $361,620,000

    [you’re easily the most stupid commentator we get, Bryan. Spending is not evidence of waste. It would be like me putting up your salary and saying ‘see wasteful private sector spending’. I would have to make an actual case that the outputs delivered for your salary could be delivered cheaper in another way or were not necessary at all. SP]

  13. Ari 13

    I’d also like to point out that the EFA has wider results than limiting marketing. For instance, because marketing is limited, politicians now have to spend more face time with the public, try and get into positive news stories, and actually release policy (in some cases) to get votes instead of just fundraising. This ought to help raise political awareness, increase voting statistics, and generally stimulate the health of our democracy.

    It also ensures that unpaid political commentary becomes more important- bloggers, political chats, so on- because when you’ve hit the spending cap, you’ve got to get other people to carry your message for you. The decentralisation of politics is one of the big keys in a healthy democracy I feel, and even if the EFA makes you feel like you’re being treated like a kid, I’d spare a thought for its wider effects first. 🙂

    edited to add:
    Bryan- Just quoting dollar values doesn’t show a lack of accountability. Give us some actual inventories of unneeded items with some clear rationale instead of “OMG people who are not rich white men should not have public money spent on them!” reactions.

  14. Matthew Pilott 14

    Bryan, did you know that Maori is one of the only aboriginal languages in the world that is being spoken by more people? That thousands of languages are dead or dying, in a very short period of time. As an aside…

    There’s an initial flaw in MikeE’s quote that you’ve obviously missed – “the” person paying tax? With few exceptions, we all do actually. Your idea of waste isn’t mine, so your four examples simply illustrate your narrowmindedness.

    I suspect you don’t want the government to spend a cent where it won’t make a buck, and shouldn’t be making a buck because that’s the market’s job. McGovernment anyone?

  15. Felix 15

    Maoris, women, islanders and artists.

    What are they doing spending OUR money?

  16. Ari 16

    You know, Maori, women, Islanders, and artists all pay taxes. They probably even pay more than enough taxes to cover the respective departments that help them out, Felix. 😉

  17. BeShakey 17

    What I’d like to see is some analysis of waste that could a) be easily removed, and b) would be substantial enough to lead to worthwhile tax cuts (if Key is to be believed he would currently chop out enough ‘waste’ for 50c a week).
    Something detailed would be asking for a bit much, but given the huge amount of waste I’m sure there must be a quick billion that can be eliminated somewhere.

    By my (rough) calculation Bryan is in the lead with $1.81 each per week over three years. And that is assuming that those entire organisations are waste and there won’t be any transfer of costs.

  18. SP: the four ministries I listed total around $550,000,000 in expenditure. At say $100,000 per head (salaries,sick leave, overheads etc) that would mean we could employ 5,500 extra police or nurses or school teachers if this money was redirected. I’m sure all four ministries do ‘nice to have’ work but none of it is necessary for the effective functioning of society.

  19. Felix 19

    It’s ok Ari, I was just making fun of Bryan.

  20. Matthew Pilott 20

    I’m sure all four ministries do ‘nice to have’ work but none of it is necessary for the effective functioning of society.

    The only metaphor that springs to mind is the difference between a quickie with a prostitute and a good shag with your wife.

    Bryan wants government to be quick, efficient, and thoroughly devoid of any aspect that isn’t providing a “necessary service”.

    Some of us want a bit of love from the government – to do a bit more than keep law and order, teach the kids and make sure the poor don’t die starving. Oh sure, it might nag every now and then, but you probably do deserve it (sorry for the completely male-oriented comment).

    P.S. Bryan, couldn’t someone make a lot of money out of a privatised police force? I don’t see why a government in your ideal (cold, barren, stark and hateful) world would need to provide anything – at best they could outsource. Technically, everything apart from the military is “nice to have”.

    Military secures the borders, and devil take the hindmost inside the land – a libertarian’s dream. Anything else is “nice to have”, so I don’t see why Bryan gets to pick and choose what he thinks is important and trashes the rest.

  21. Pascal's bookie 21

    I was just making fun of Bryan.

    Well you shouldn’t. I think he’s on to something.

    Let’s take a look at his list:

    Ministry of Women?s Affairs $5,114,000
    Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs $7,953,000
    Te Puni Kokiri $189,600,000
    Ministry for Culture and Heritage $361,620,000.

    Of his around $550,000,000 in expenditure, the vast majority comes from abolishing the Ministry of Art and Culture.

    Bryan has identified a tragic flaw in western political history. We are modeling ourselves on the wrong damn greeks.

    He is a bit coy about the other ministries but I suspect that our Bryan is a fan of Strauss. The deeper meaning is clear to those who understand his text.

    The other Spartan notion that Bryan subtly alludes to here, (beyond his idea that the arts are useless to society and thus should not be funded), is the old tradition of the annual pro forma declaration of war against the indegenous people. In this PC mad world he can’t come right out and say it though. This will have the obvious benefit of saving loads of dosh in areas beyond those he lists. Justice. Welfare. Health. etc.

    The only cost is that the All Blacks will never win a game again. So I’m against.

  22. Matthew: “Bryan wants government to be quick, efficient, and thoroughly devoid of any aspect that isn’t providing a “necessary service’.”

    Absolutely, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    “The only metaphor that springs to mind is the difference between a quickie with a prostitute and a good shag with your wife.”

    I think a better metaphor for the relationship between taxpayers and government is being robbed at gunpoint and then being forced to watch your assailant spend the money on paying for sex with a prostitute.

  23. Vanilla Eis 23

    Steady on PB, we might beat Estonia.

  24. Matthew Pilott 24

    Bryan, taxpayers’ money is spent on everyone. Your metaphor sucks.

    Instead perhaps stick to trying to provide flawed reasoning as to why the government should only fund things you like, and not things other people like, from everyone’s money.

    You haven’t even started to explain how you define a “necessary” service – I presume that’s because you don’t want to come out and say “necessary to me”.

    PB – eloquent.

  25. Razorlight 25

    Laws are usually passed to deal with a mischief. A kind of problem solving exercise. If this is not working or we do not want people to do this we will make rules to ensure an outcome.

    I have never heard of breast feeding been a problem. It is kind of like legislating to allow going to the loo.

    Did we really need this law?

  26. QoT 26

    Say, Razorlight, you wouldn’t be, oh, a breastfeeding mother? A manager with breastfeeding employees? Or someone involved human rights law implementation and mediation in cases where employers have refused to allow women to breastfeed at work? In any of which cases what “you have heard” might actually be relevant to the issue. It’s really easy to not see what you’ve never even had a opportunity to witness.

  27. Lew 27

    Bryan’s line here is a very common one; a dog-whistle bound up in a gendered metaphor for the state. The type of government he describes, but doesn’t name, is commonly termed a `Nightwatchman State’ and is opposed to what he would probably (correct me if I’m wrong, Bryan, I don’t want to put words in your mouth) call the `Nanny State’.

    A nightwatchman makes sure the lights are turned out after the last person leaves for the night, makes sure the doors are locked, the guard dogs are off their chains and generally leaves people to the tender mercies of the wild world. A nanny makes sure meals are provided rooms are tidied, provides comfort and education and advice, and makes sure people are well-prepared to go out into that wild world. The way this is typically rolled out is in one treating people like adults while the other treats them like children, though this is a false dichotomy which I’ll not get into now.

    This gender differential between the supposed role of the state is the fulcrum of this line of anti-Clark, anti-PC, anti-government, anti-minority rhetoric, and its purpose is to create a moiety division dividing `us’ from `them’. It hearkens back to the old notions of men being sensible, intelligent, hard-working, trustworthy, predictable straight-shooters, while women are flighty, incapable of learning complex things, weak, arbitrary, appeasers prone to hysteria and political correctness. The division also invokes ideas of `men’s work’ – industry, security, economy – the things which have always been highly valued; while `women’s work’ – health, education, assistance – have always been undervalued, and in many cases are still unpaid.

    The definition of these notionally masculine qualities in this way essentially defines men as the norm – as an orthodoxy, in opposition to women. (It breaks down further than this: Pakeha are `us’ as well, but that’s another blag). Women (Helen Clark, Sue Bradford, Heather Simpson, Annette King, Cindy Kiro, etc) are defined as `them’, who are unlike `us’ and by definition do not want what `we’ want. `They’ oppose what `we’ think is right, `they’ stand in the way of `our’ rights to smack children or emit carbon or buy political advertising or whatever else.

    George Lakoff and others have talked about `Strict Father’ and `Nurturing Parent’ political models which also capture this division. Boiled down even further (though I’m cautious about reductionism) the core distinction here is `hard’ and `soft’, and by now it should be easy to figure out which side represents which. Viewed in this light the focus of planned cuts becomes clear: we don’t need anything other than industry, security and economy anyway, right?

    We’ve got a backlash here, against what Rodney Hide and Lindsay Perigo call the `PC socialisation of everything’, represented by women taking command of the traditionally male task of running a country. It’s pretty obvious to people once pointed out, and there’s the rub: in principle it should alienate at least 50% of the electorate immediately by implying and in some cases stating outright that what they (stereotypically, and stereotypes still count for quite a lot) care about isn’t important and must be subjugated to the priorities of the other just-under-50%. The trick for both sides, when a symbolic battle is fought along these lines, is to encourage defection. In principle, it should be easy, but in practice, the orthodoxy of masculinity is very deeply embedded in our cultures.


  28. vto 28

    I agree Mr Lew with your id of the rising tide. But I disagree as to les raisons and intentions and purposes and some of the descriptions. But there certainly a rising of the way you describe.

    also.. That less than 50% are in fact alienated should indicate that much of the first part of your post is not right.

  29. Lew 29

    vto: I didn’t talk about a `rising tide’, I talked about `backlash’ which, instead of connoting gradual, unstoppable increase denotes a violent, unconsidered knee-jerk reaction. And I explain the importance of defection in the last paragraph, so that accounts for the split.

    Incidentally, tide is one of the most fundamental political metaphors, for that primary reason: it is indeterrable. Once rising, it’s rising, once falling, it’s falling.


  30. vto 30

    Lew I meant the rising tide against which the backlash is backing and lashing. And not backing or lashing quite as you paint.

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  • Coastal Shipping Webinar
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  • Supporting stranded seasonal workers to keep working with more flexible options
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    5 days ago
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  • Speech to Labour Party Congress 2020
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