One of the most important issues for New Zealand this year has been alcohol reform. It is very much an economic issue, as well as a social one. There is no question that alcohol costs this country a shocking amount in poor health outcomes, domestic and public disturbances, road accidents and deaths. The loss of productivity, that magic bullet that economists and politicians are continually banging on about, ought to make the issue of alcohol reform an urgent one for the Government.
However, alcohol makes some people a lot of money. Alcohol manufacturers and distributors are big corporate entities, as are the supermarket chains whose profits rely on alcohol sales. In a Bill hundreds of pages long these groups are uncurbed, and some are actually exempted from any regulations stated in the Bill. With huge public demand for effective alcohol reform (9000+ submissions), the Government has found itself between an economic rock and a socially demanding hard place, and has put off considering the toothless Bill. Perhaps the hope is that public demand will have waned after the election, with all the excesses of the Rugby World Cup behind us. Let us hope otherwise.
We have encountered a number of other issues through this year: local government changes, student loans, supporting children and changes to the tax system. Most of these Bills or papers attempted to save the Government money by squeezing individuals and small businesses, either through cutting costs or reorganising processes. The Budget proved more of the same.
Income sharing, a laudable attempt to recognise the vital unpaid work caring for children that so many women do, failed to gain traction partly due to the already huge and unnecessarily complex tax system we are burdened with. The discussion document Making Tax Easier was entirely about IT, and nothing to do with the iniquities and loopholes that allow money marketeers to escape basic taxes like GST, which the poorest families cannot. For me, making tax easier would be to abolish GST in favour of a very small financial transactions tax (FTT) implemented on withdrawal so that speculators could not avoid it. Now, that's a broad-based tax.
Most recently there has been some mainstream media discussion about gender pay equity, a welcome change. Thanks to the foot-in-mouth outpourings of Alasdair Thompson, facts all too familiar to women in the paid workforce are being aired in public. Our public service makes a poor showing, and the challenge is to keep the issue to the fore now that Mr. Thompson is no longer a useful target.
A potential economic threat to all aspects of our society is the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. This and similar trade agreements have been found to include clauses that privilege multinational corporations and reduce the democratic sovereignty of signatory nations. We are likely to lose Pharmac to the giant drug companies, and even alcohol reform will be hampered by trade agreements. The tobacco lawsuit against the Australian Government is a timely warning that the corpocracy that Professor Doug Sellman warns about is upon us.
Meanwhile, the casino of stock markets and currency traders continues unabated, with the NZ dollar one of the most volatile and profitable currencies going. Orthodox economics dictates that while stock values are rising and bank profits in the black, the economy is all right. Blinkered National Party thinking that places faith in ‘market forces’, and chooses to ignore the dangerous, widening gap between rich and poor, will be the driver of another worse downturn, one we can’t blame on earthquakes in Christchurch.