Why One Should Be Sceptical Of Labour’s Recent High Polling

Recent opinion polls in New Zealand suggest that the Sixth Labour Government is utterly triumphant. Labour’s polling dominance is such that it has led directly to a change in Leader of the Opposition. However, as this article will show, Labour’s high polling numbers need to be taken with a massive pinch of salt.

Labour supporters have been effusive in their praise for Ardern, claiming that her excellent crisis leadership has been the reason for the polling rise. She has been the very model of calm, collected control, and her high polling is simply because people have come to realise how great she is. She has communicated clearly, listened to the scientists and oh isn’t she marvellous.

The reality is that sitting governments everywhere have received a significant polling boost in recent months as their populace has swung in behind them out of a wartime mindset.

The Social Democrats in Sweden, who had recently suffered the humiliation of falling behind the neo-Nazi Sweden Democrats in the polls, have now leapt back into the lead. Since the coronavirus pandemic began in earnest, they have increased their share of expected voters from 23% to 31%. In other words, the sitting government’s vote share increased by about a third – as it did in New Zealand.

It’s worth noting here that the Swedish approach to the pandemic was almost the opposite of New Zealand’s. Sweden did not have lockdowns, choosing to rely on the inevitable herd immunity of the population. So it’s not simply a matter of sitting governments being rewarded for making the right move. No-one knows yet what the right move was.

A Labour supporter might interject here. They might claim that the Swedish Social Democrats are also a centre-left party, and so their success combined with New Zealand Labour’s success shows that the time has come for the politics of kindness. Regardless of how the coronavirus should have been dealt with, many voters now agree that the time of miserliness and keeping other people down is over.

These are lovely sentiments, but the reigning Union Government in Germany is conservative, and they have also seen a poll boost since the coronavirus pandemic started – in their case of some 12% (see image at top of page). So the populations of Western countries have fallen in behind centre-right governments as well as centre-left ones.

Final proof comes from the fact that the Scott Morrison Government in Australia, despite being mired in scandal and accusations of incompetence, has also climbed some 6-7% since the pandemic hit. Morrison had fallen behind Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese on the Preferred Prime Minister polls, but has now regained his lead.

There’s an obvious conclusion to draw from all this data. It’s apparent that the public of every Western nation has fallen in behind their leadership on account of anxiety from the coronavirus pandemic. This is clear from the fact that, despite handling the pandemic in very different ways, all sitting governments have seen massive boosts to their polling.

Kings have long known that their underlings plot and scheme against them less when the castle is under siege. Dictators have also long known that their position is never more secure than when the nation is under threat from an outside enemy. In fact, it’s a law of social psychology that group cohesion is a function of the group’s anxiety about external threats.

This is why criticising Jacinda Ardern has become a social misdemeanour. At a time of great need, such as this coronavirus pandemic, it’s almost seen as treason to criticise the leader. This is an emergency, and that demands that everyone put their grievances aside and work together for a greater goal.

The true measure of Labour’s polling will come after the siege mentality brought on by the coronavirus pandemic is lifted. There’s good reason to expect that Labour will fall back to within 5% of their pre-COVID mark of around 42%. If they do, and given that the ACT Party is now polling at 3.5%, then this September’s election could still be very close, despite how high Labour and Ardern are currently riding.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2019 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 and the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 are also available.

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How A Coronavirus Pandemic Could Win Jacinda Ardern The Election

This September’s election promises to be very close. Opinion polls suggest that either of a National-ACT or Labour-New Zealand First-Greens coalition could easily take power in the aftermath. The actual winner will be determined by a number of factors. One of those factors, as this essay will discuss, is the effect of COVID-19 on the demographic makeup of the nation.

One striking feature of this particular form of coronavirus is its death rate among old people. The death rate for people aged 80 and over who contract it is believed to be over 14%. For people aged between 70 and 79 it appears to be 8.0%, and 3.6% for people aged between 60 and 69. Corona-Chan is the Scourge of the Aged.

The death rate among young people, by contrast, is extremely low. No-one aged under 10 is known to have died of COVID-19 yet, and the death rate for those under 40 appears to be no more than 0.2%, i.e. barely different to regular bouts of influenza. Corona-Chan is merciful upon the young.

This great differential in danger across age brackets may have electoral consequences.

As Dan McGlashan showed in Understanding New Zealand, there are very strong correlations between being old and voting Conservative or National. In 2017, the correlation between being aged 65+ and voting Conservative was 0.39, and between being aged 65+ and voting National it was 0.62. At the other end of the scale, the correlation between being aged 20-29 and voting Labour in 2017 was 0.34, and with voting Greens it was 0.60.

0.62 is a strong enough correlation to suggest that the vast majority of people over 65 will vote National, and much of the remainder will vote Conservative. Meanwhile, the correlation of -0.35 between being aged 20-29 and voting National in 2017 tells us that few young people will vote for them in September.

Put these two things together, and it becomes apparent that COVID-19 is likely to kill off a significant proportion of National and Conservative voters.

There were over 711,000 people in New Zealand aged 65 or over at the end of 2016. It might be closer to 800,000 by now. If COVID-19 kills off 10% of people over 65 before September 19, that will approach 80,000 deaths, and if 75% of those people were National or Conservative voters, that suggests that they could well lose 60,000 voters – 20,000 more than Labour, Greens or New Zealand First would lose.

At the 2017 General Election, National, ACT and Conservatives got 1,171,403 votes between them out of a total of 2,591,896, a proportion of 45.2%. If they would lose 60,000 voters from coronavirus deaths, as per the scenario outlined in the above paragraph, they would end up with 1,111,403 votes out of a total of 2,511,896 – a proportion of 44.2%.

A loss of one percent might not sound like much, but the effect of COVID-19 in suppressing right-wing voters is not limited to deaths.

If there are 60,000 deaths among National and Conservative voters, there will be at least this many incapacitated by the illness. The overseas experience has shows that COVID-19 often means a few weeks confined to an artificial respirator. If the pandemic is at or near its peak in New Zealand at the time of the election, there could be a large number of old people unable to vote because coronavirus has left them physically incapable of doing so.

A further factor is that some old people might decide to stay away from polling booths on Election Day out of the fear of contracting coronavirus. As COVID-19’s greater threat to the elderly is widely known by now, a significant number of those elderly might be persuaded to stay away from the polling booths altogether. A majority of the population will pass through the nation’s polling booths on September 19, so standing in line at one for half an hour is asking for trouble.

Adding together deaths, incapacitations and discouragements, the right wing appears likely to lose several tens of thousands of voters before September 19.

All of this is moot if Jacinda Ardern suspends the election. There is presently no hard indication that she is prepared to do this, but mayoral elections due for May have already been suspended for 12 months in London, and Ardern must have felt the temptation. New Zealand has already been in chimpout mode for the past year and this coronavirus pandemic has made it three times worse.

Assuming the election goes ahead as planned though, there is a small but realistic chance that what would have been a National-ACT victory is transformed into a loss by the effects of COVID-19. The balance is so fine that a nudge the size of a coronavirus pandemic could tip it over.

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Low Unemployment Is Meaningless If The Jobs Don’t Pay

Politicians like to brag about the low levels of unemployment they claim to have achieved. A low level of unemployment is presented as evidence that the economy is being managed well, and therefore that the stewards don’t need to be changed. But as this essay will demonstrate, low unemployment is meaningless if the jobs don’t lift people out of poverty.

Western politicians have been terrified of unemployment ever since World War II. Adolf Hitler frequently made reference in his rally speeches to the climbing German unemployment rate, citing it as evidence of the failure of the then-existing political Establishment. It’s taken as true by all that an unemployed man is far more likely to cause trouble.

The postwar paradigm has been characterised by a concerted effort to keep unemployment low. This worked out very well in the decades after the war, because back then a job guaranteed a certain standard of living. A full-time worker could expect to own a house and support a wife and three children. This great wealth, fairly distributed, kept revolutionary sentiments to a minimum.

Since the advent of neoliberalism in the early 1980s, the Western worker has solidly lost ground. Wages are no longer coupled with productivity (see graph at top of page), and so the buying power of the average wage has steadily declined. The average wage in New Zealand now has less than 40% of the house-buying power that it had a generation ago.

The problem is that Western politicians have continued with the assumption that so long as they keep unemployment low, all will be swell. This is a fine assumption when the average worker can afford a house and to raise three children in it. When they can’t, this assumption just leads to the face of the average worker getting pushed further and further into the shit.

If a person works full-time, but can’t meet a dignified standard of living with the proceeds from their wage, then that person is effectively a slave. Whether you’re a slave or free is not a question of how big your television is, it’s a question of how much coercion you live under. If your wage is so poor that you can’t live on it, then you’re effectively dependent on other people’s largesse. Less dependent than a beggar, but dependent all the same.

The lesson that Western politicians need to learn is that unemployment itself is not a good thing. Unemployment only has value insofar as it is conducive to ending the people’s suffering. If a working person can’t alleviate any of their suffering because their wage is so poor, then they are just as liable to become discontented as an unemployed person.

After all, the unemployment rate on slave plantations is extremely low. No-one on a slave plantation is sitting idle, or on the dole. So if unemployment alone is a factor important enough to gloat about, then it could be argued that the slave plantation model is a highly effective way to organise an economy. The absurdity of this is obvious.

It’s meaningless, then, for a politician to gloat about the low unemployment levels of their economy, as if that alone were evidence that they were running the country well. What matters is that the people are not suffering – if a large proportion of employed workers are not able to live decent lives, then the country is not run well.

The starkest problem for the Western worker is that they no longer have any negotiating power. This is the result of a combination of factors, the foremost being union-busting laws, ever-increasing technological sophistication (requiring ever-higher educations to understand) and the mass immigration of cheap labour. The capital holders have all the power, and they have used this to drive wages to the floor.

There probably isn’t any way to solve this problem within the current economic paradigm. The decoupling of wages from productivity has granted to capital holders a degree of coercion over their workers that they have not enjoyed since slavery: stories like this are now common. The only solution that seems likely is to institute a universal basic income, because this would allow workers to turn down abusive or exploitative employers.

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Would Andrew Yang’s Universal Basic Income Scheme Work In New Zealand?

Of all the candidates for the Democratic nomination for the American Presidential Election later this year, none have the intellectual pedigree of Andrew Yang. From the demented Joe Biden to the snotty Elizabeth Warren to the weakling Bernie Sanders, the Democratic field seems mediocre in comparison. This article discusses one of Yang’s most popular ideas – the Universal Basic Income – and whether it’s applicable to New Zealand.

The maths is hard to escape.

Let’s assume we directly adopt Yang’s proposal of $1,000 per month, no questions asked, for every qualifying adult, with no adjustment made for the exchange rate. This equals $12,000 per year per person over 18. As there are at least 3,667,000 such adults in New Zealand, a UBI would require an expenditure of around $44,000,000,000 per year. This a hefty sum of money – but it’s a good deal for New Zealand if the costs of not having a UBI would be greater.

Yang suggests that he would pay for a UBI mostly by consolidating welfare programs and by introducing a 10% VAT on all goods and services.

Something that many UBI opponents fail to consider is that the introduction of a UBI would obviate the need for almost all benefits, which could then be scrapped. The unemployment benefit, the sickness benefit, the invalid’s benefit, the student allowance and the pension could all be shitcanned in one go. This means all the bureaucracy and expense associated with them would also go.

The Government spent $34,000,000,000 on welfare last year, a figure that includes the cost of running the welfare bureaucracy. The Ministry of Social Development, in a manner of speaking, is the welfare bureaucracy – it employs public servants in over 200 different locations around New Zealand. It’s a titanic institution.

With a UBI, all of those public servants would be made redundant, the bureaucracies that employ them would be wound down, and the 200 locations that currently house them sold off. As the Ministry of Social Development costs $27,000,000,000 a year to run – and that’s only the core expenses – getting rid of all this would provide 70-75% of the required funding for a UBI.

The Government brought in around $22,000,000,000 last year from the Goods and Services Tax, currently set at 15%. The GST is a tax beloved of modern Governments because it’s hard to avoid – pretty much every legitimate business has to account for it. Also, being a consumption tax, it’s all but unavoidable even for the most miserly person. Even if you only spend $200 a week to keep yourself alive, you will pay $30 in GST that week.

America doesn’t have a federal GST, so the introduction of one at 10% would be the equivalent of New Zealand raising ours from 15% to 25%. Most European countries have GST rates of between 20% and 25%, so this would be nothing extraordinary.

It’s not guaranteed that increasing GST to 25% (i.e. a relative increase of 67% compared to the 15% it is now at) would necessarily increase GST take by a proportionate amount. Higher taxes may lead to increasing rates of tax evasion (although, as mentioned above, GST is difficult to avoid).

If it did, however, then 67% of $22,000,000,000 would mean a further $14,700,000,000.

Add this to the sum of $27-34,000,000,000 for obsoleting the Ministry of Social Development, and we have somewhere around $42-48,000,000,000. This is enough to cover the cost of a UBI mentioned above. Once Yang’s other revenue-gathering measures (such as a transaction tax) are accounted for, there might even be enough to grant slightly more than $1,000 per month (which would otherwise only be about as much as the current unemployment benefit).

All of this is before we try to estimate the economic benefits of what would, in practice, amount to a powerful stimulus. The economic benefits of empowering individuals to turn down shitty working conditions, coupled with the physical and mental health savings accrued from sharply reducing the financial stress among the population, could be worth several billions in their own right.

In the end, Andrew Yang’s proposal to get rid of the American welfare bureaucracy could be applied in New Zealand wholesale. We also have the problem that we spend billions of dollars on office staff merely to determine who’s worthy of being allowed to eat and who isn’t. Scrapping the Ministry of Social Development, along with increasing GST by 10%, would allow us to fund a Universal Basic Income for all adult Kiwis.

New Zealand has already embarrassed itself by having less enlightened cannabis laws than 70 other nations. Hopefully we won’t have to wait for 70 other nations to introduce a UBI before the merits of such are understood in New Zealand.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2019 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 and the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 are also available.

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