What constitutes radical politics in 2017?

The latest policy release by TOP leader Gareth Morgan that they would like to introduce a $10,000 pa Universal Basic Income for all New Zealanders, starting with parents of under 3’s, and make National Superannuation a means tested top up, is the most “radical” policy announcement from a political party in years. It set me thinking as to what a hypothetical “radical” party in New Zealand would advocate as policy objectives.

A UBI certainly meets the criteria of “radical”. Yet in a sense it is just extending universality to both the current Super and the long discontinued Family Benefit, a weekly universal payment for each child. A UBI merely adds all those in between the two age groups to the payment roster. It would foster a culture of creativity, volunteerism & small business and remove some of the insecurity surrounding casualisation and automation in the workforce.

Just as radical in today’s context, but a given for both National and Labour governments before the 1980’s, is the Government acting as employer of last resort, a Job Guarantee. This could take the form of something similar to the previous Ministry of Works and Railways, something new like regional Task Force Green units or even a special tier of employees spread across central & local government departments, Crown Research Units, universities, schools and hospitals etc that were paid the minimum wage to get experience and to contribute to the organisation as a stepping stone to a Tier One position later on. It would guarantee graduates, school leavers and the marginal workforce, those suffering from physical and mental issues that make them “unemployable” in the private sector, a job, with all the benefits this entails financially and socially. It would also require the private sector to better wage & employment conditions to attract employees.

A truly “radical” government would also guarantee warm, affordable housing as a human right. Given the failure of the “market” to do so, the government could finance and coordinate a massive building programme, including associated infrastructure, on rural fringe land, expropriating the land at rural prices under the Public Works Act, and either selling or renting the houses to low income buyers at cost. These could be financed at very low interest with zero capital gains covenants whereby owners built equity but could not on sell at a profit. The first Labour Government provides a construction model with its partnership with Fletchers in the 1930’s as do low interest loans from the now defunct Housing Corporation.

A truly “radical” government would offer free education right the way through tertiary level, recognising education as much as a public good as a private one. It would also introduce civics and political studies to at least secondary level to foster critical thinking and democratic participation. Non conformity should be welcomed.

A truly “radical” government would put the environment, the biosphere, at the centre of the economy and the New Zealand way of life. All businesses, be they rural or urban, would be financially and socially responsible for the environmental effects their activities they cause, be it water pollution, chimney emissions or toxic residues in soil. Business would be levied according to its risk, much like ACC, to create a pollution fund for mitigation and cleanup. At the same time far more stringent regulation and prosecution of egregious offenders would be mandatory. At the moment most pollution is subsidised by the taxpayer, human and environmental health.

A truly “radical” government would mandate reduce, reuse and recycle as a fundamental part of economic development. Products and packaging would be the responsibility of manufacturers and retailers. The cost of this should be internalised into prices to properly reflect lifetime costs. Stringent standards on energy & fuel efficiency would be compulsory not voluntary with the most inefficient 20% being removed from sale each year. A plan to reduce fuel imports to zero would be implemented, to benefit the environment, household incomes and the Trade and Current Accounts.

A truly “radical” government would have Steady State as its objective. Endless growth & consumption are not feasible long term on a planet of dwindling resources and compromised biosphere. Yet even the NZ Greens, unlike their overseas brethren, do not actively promote it.

A truly “radical” government would re-nationalise electricity and water. Households would receive an allocation at cost, sufficient for a small low income family, with tariffs rising steeply after this to encourage efficiency. Decentralisation of electrical generation would be encouraged and all new buildings would be expected to include solar wherever feasible as well as meet far more stringent insulation standards. Continuing the upgrade of rental properties, all rental or owner occupied properties would have to be upgraded before their next sale.

A truly “radical” government would extensively fund an independent public service TV channel free from advertising and extend the resources of RNZ. Journalists would be hired who would be truly committed to acting as a fourth estate and a “blowtorch” to power, be it government or business. A well resourced media ombudsmen would act as a proactive arbiter of journalistic standards both in the public service and the corporate media.

A truly “radical” government would advocate and practice complete transparency at all levels, from Cabinet down through the bureaucracy, quangos and including all government contracts. If any company wants to deal with the government at any level there should be no expectation of commercial “sensitivity”. Journalists, academics and the general public should be able to access contracts, minutes and diaries (with perhaps a short time lag) to ensure absolute transparency and mitigate corruption and lobbying. Historical archives of every level and department of government should be made accessible, including the military & intelligence services (except those that pertain to technological capabilities) It is essential that journalists and academics can throw light on the historical actions/machinations of previous governments even if this causes embarrassment.

A truly “radical” government would withdraw from existing defence arrangements and become completely non aligned. It would also withdraw from the Five Eyes arrangement and remove electronic intelligence gathering stations from New Zealand. Current and historical defence and intelligence agreements have entangled New Zealand, an isolated and benign nation, in the political, economic and military ambitions of others. As a consequence New Zealanders have been responsible for, and suffered, unnecessary loss of life.

A truly “radical” government would also recognise and protect the right of everyone to express themselves freely in any non violent way they see fit without the Police or security services spying on them. Democracy should be messy and diverse.

A truly “radical” government would withdraw from the United Nations, recognising that it is an un democratic and compromised idea as long as the Security Council wields undue influence. New Zealand could achieve far more by devoting the same resources to its own aid projects, without the Machiavellian political machinations of the UN.

A truly “radical” government would pay for all this by extensive yet simple tax reform. An Automated Payment Tax on all transactions going in and out of every bank account of an individual, company or trust could replace income and company tax, GST, Fringe Benefits Tax, Resident Withholding Tax, Capital Gains Tax and act as a stamp duty, inheritance tax, import and export duty as well as a tax on transfer payments. It would also level the playing field between domestic retailers and foreign internet retailers. All tax deductions would be dispensed with and no losses carried over. A Land Value Tax would be implemented to keep property values in line with incomes.

A truly “radical” government would carry out extensive bank regulation and monetary reform. It would reduce the percentage of the money supply created by bank credit, especially mortgage loans, and instead have the RB create more money which it would spend into the economy through the purchase of goods and services. Infrastructure like hospitals, schools, rail, roads, full employment programmes. Too Big To Fail banks would be cut down to size and community banks reintroduced to service local business.

A truly “radical” government would initiate a population plan, polling New Zealanders on what they thought the nation’s capacity, in terms of quality of life and the environment was. Immigration would be determined by this, not left to the market.

A truly “radical” government would judge itself by the lives of its most vulnerable, not throw them on the trash heap and condemn them to a life of subsistence.

In summary, a “radical” government would aim to facilitate the healthiest, best educated, most tolerant, most egalitarian, happiest society on this planet. Some of these ideas were practiced by both National and Labour prior to 1984. Yes there were issues to be resolved at that time and New Zealand was innately socially conservative. Instead New Zealand embarked on a bizarre and ultimately destructive neo liberal experiment. Are these “radical” ideas Utopian? Perhaps. But the current status quo is leading us down a dystopian dead end.

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