While I have been buried in literature regarding New Zealand’s policy past I have not been paying too much attention to what politicians within New Zealand have been saying. This has led me to miss the growth in xenophobia in New Zealand – with the suggestion of putting a levy on “foreign workers” now being seen as sensible policy by the Labour party. This disappoints me greatly, and I am genuinely hurt that society is moving this way over here.
Although growing xenophobia in New Zealand and around the world disappoints me, I struggle to believe it is the result of a truly racist preference. Instead the growth of, or at very least the perception of, economic insecurity is undermining principles of tolerance. In that way there is a role for government to improve outcomes – not by attacking other groups – but through its role as the provider of social insurance.
It is in this way that the Labour party’s willingness to discuss the Future of Work is encouraging. A lack of economic security, both in terms of income and perceptions of status, is one of the key reasons why society coordinates insurance policy through a central government – the scope and nature of this needs to be discussed and evaluated as the world changes.
And in this way the recent NBR piece by Rodney Hide that was approving linked to by David Farrar makes no sense to me. I don’t disagree that politicians use empty rhetoric – Hide as a former politician has plenty of experience doing that himself. In fact the article is filled with its own meaningless slogans about wealth generators and needing to be an experienced businessman to discuss industry.
There is a meaningful debate to be had about the nature of social insurance in New Zealand, and the way we help people transition between jobs in the face of technological changes and other changes in the global economic environment. This is a debate that we ignored in the 1980s and early 1990s which has undeniably hurt certain groups in society. This is a debate that has been ignored in the UK and US and has led to the election of increasingly authoritarian governments pushing increasingly intolerant policies that the majority feels will give them the security they lack in the labour market.
Morally I have long felt that the Western middle class (myself included) should accept the idea of slower growth in living standards to reduce global poverty – although premised on the idea that there should be more domestic support to helping those who lose from any change to transiton. But recent elections around the world show they haven’t, and the status costs associated with these changes (and growth in income to the wealthiest in these countries) has led to a backlash. Not just that, but the changes have occurred in a way that has – for many – undermined economic security.
This is a relevant issue for policy makers and the public to discuss, and making sure we talk about these so that the trade-offs involved are transparent and the value-judgments we are making as a society are clear is essential. Attacking policy suggestions on the basis that the report is too big and you don’t know what the programs are – like Hide does – doesn’t help.