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“Show us the money” – Dennis Dorney

News and views from New Zealand

During the 2011 New Zealand elections when the PM, and the leader of the opposition squared off in their mandatory sparring session, David Shearer (Labour leader) challenged John Key (National PM) to “Show us the jobs.” John Key replied “Show us the money”, which the right-wing press declared was a knock-out blow. It is rather strange that a Prime Minister can enhance his stature by failing to grasp the link between money and jobs but this ignorance pervades everything that the National coalition has done since acquiring power. Yet Treasurer Bill English has staked his government’s future on its reputation for sound economic management, which from his perspective means his ability to balance the Budget.

We were assured this would happen by 2014, which fortuitously is the year of the next election, but the figures failed to co-operate and 2015 looked no better, so the desperate remedy was adopted, of adding 3c for each of the next 3 years to the price of one litre of petrol. With such remedies available even the proverbial drover’s dog can balance a budget but, just in case, the government is also slashing social benefits. Ever since their austerity program began, NZ has been losing jobs. In recent months job losses have intensified. Although there are clearly no jobs available, the unemployed have been denigrated repeatedly as being slackers and with the new tougher approach they must be actively seeking work and be ‘job-ready’ (meaning that they must undergo training) or risk having their benefits cut in half.

No doubt some are work-shy, but caught up in this callous process are some whose motivation is indisputable. It appears that grand-parents, who are looking after grand-children, because they are at risk in their own domestic environment, must also be actively seeking work or risk losing benefits. Some grandparents are only months away from retirement and some gave up secure jobs to give loving support to these children. The long term costs and consequences to the children are not considered. The mind set of the government is that these carers are not usefully employed and must seek work, and it is at this point that the government’s ignorance of the jobs/money link, becomes apparent.

Perhaps, because banks can create money without any goods or services also being created, the government believes that newly created money has intrinsic value, so anything that adds to the money supply must be good and any effort that does not add to the money supply must be bad.

I grow most of my own vegetables – an activity that can be applauded for a number of reasons, but because it doesn’t show up in NZ’s GDP, it is declared to be bad, yet if I employed a gardener, that would be good. The grand-parent carers are in the same bind – they provide a worthy service but generate no money, yet the value to our economy of such unrecognised labour would be staggering – if we could measure it. It is labour such as this which gives a real meaning to quality of life, isn’t it? Apparently not, according to this government – money is an end in itself.

Most ERA members would agree that money is simply a device for fairly allocating the national wealth according to the labour input of each worker. A satisfactory definition of work is therefore essential, and it should include the work of grandparents in nurturing their grandchildren to adulthood, if that offers the best outcome for the children.

It should also be evident that if work is the basic determinant of wealth then it is immoral for any person to claim a share from the common wealth of more than that of 1000 average workers. It should be possible, since the productive capacity is obviously there, to create a monetary system in which a basic minimum wage is available to all, even to those who choose to potter in the garden, and to allocate an extra share to those who choose to make a greater contribution.

Perhaps, in such a world, where money is created, not as a debt unrelated to goods or services, but merely as an acknowledgement for work already done, people would choose to acquire only what they need and place a higher value on leisure, so the world could become painlessly self-sustaining. Perhaps in such a world, high achievers in science and research would be more honoured than ‘celebrities’. We appear to be nowhere near attaining that world but a growing number are realizing that it is possible.

On the other hand, our leaders have inherited a belief, bordering on religion, that a better future can be realised only if we live now in debt-slavery and work for long hours for a diminishing share of the national wealth, with no clear expectation of anything better. We are indoctrinated to ridicule those who can’t maintain the pace of the tread-mill, and we cannot comprehend the despair of a our youths, who pickle their brains every Saturday night and give New Zealand one of the highest suicide rates in the civilised world.

Their world vision offers these youths neither jobs nor hope. Paradoxically it is the pursuit of this imagined future that gives us the budget-balancing, job shedding measures beloved of right wing economists. Their solutions have not so far produced the required outcome and, in a world being denuded of its assets, never will.

Dennis Dorney is an ERA member living in the Otago region of New Zealand

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