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Treasury’s verdict on raising the Minimum Wage? – Part II

19 November 2011 3 comments

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Throughout this election, John Key has been criticising Labour’s policy to increase the minimum wage from $13 to $15 an hour, citing a Department of Labour (DoL) report that such a move would cost the country 6,000 jobs. Key even referred to this in his Leader’s Debates with Phil Goff.

Except… that Treasury has dismissed the DoL’s “claim” by stating that raising the minimum wage “has not been true in the past“.

John Key has been well aware of  Treasury’s debunking of DoL’s “claims”, according to a Official Information Act request made by TV3,

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Unless Treasury has become a  satrap of Socialist International, it seems pretty hard to dismiss their  conclusions. The DoL’s case is not helped by their own contradictions,

“…research from the United Kingdom suggests minimum wages may have no effect on employment, or that minimum wage effects may still exist, but they may be too difficult to detect and/or very small.” Ibid

I believe that the so-called  DoL “report” can be safely dismissed as not very intellectually rigorous.  And not even half clever.

The government claims that recent taxcuts, last year and in 2009, were “fiscally neutral”. But even this is not true.

National’s first round of tax-cuts, which took effect in April 2009, benefitted high income earners the most. Low income earners recieved very little,

The cuts are proportional to wages. Those earning $100,000 or more a year will get at least an extra $24 dollars a week. Anyone on the average income of $48,000 a year will get an extra $18 a week, and low income earners will get a $10 a week tax credit.

On a monthly basis, both tax cuts together will see those earning $100,000 pocketing an extra $225, and low income earners an extra $95 a month.” Source

The October 2010 round of tax cuts were just as bad for low income earners, and generous for high earners,

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Those on minimum wage recieved an extra $6.36.  Meanwhile someone earning $120,000 benefitted from between $46.08 to $89.04.

With growing inflation reaching a 21 year high, to 5.3%;  increasing ACC charges and rates; any gains made by low income earners and those on social welfare and superannuation were quickly eroded.

Little wonder that the end result was a transfer (“trickle up”) of wealth from the poor and middle classes, to the wealthy.

The report’s 2004 data – the latest available – reveals the richest 10 per cent collectively possess $128 billion in wealth, with median individual wealth of $255,000. In contrast, the poorest 10 per cent collectively possess $17.2b, with median individual wealth of $3200. While the richest 1 per cent held 16.4 per cent of the country’s net wealth, the poorest 50 per cent owned just 5.2 per cent. ” Source

Which, unsurpringly, means we are seeing more headlines like these in our media,

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The Dominion Post article goes on to state,

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows New Zealand’s income inequality climbed dramatically in the 1980s and 1990s after sweeping economic reforms and deregulation of labour markets.

Disparities have plateaued since 2000, largely thanks to Working for Families tax credits, bigger pay packets for middle and low-income earners and declining investment returns for the rich.

But the gap between rich and poor still ranked ninth worst in the developed world in 2008.” Ibid

How well have the top richest done in New Zealand?

About this well,

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The top 150 Rich Listers’ wealth grew by 20%.

That’s quite an achievement during one of the worst recessions in recent history. But even that increase in wealth isn’t sufficient for the Rich Listers. They wanted more,

Jeweller Sir Michael Hill, worth $245 million, told NBR: “Could not the Government give us a little freedom to be able to make common sense decisions for ourselves?”

John McVicar, managing director of a forestry group that puts his family’s worth at $70 million, said economic policy should be based on reducing costs for business and increasing productivity and revenue.

Construction company head Sir Patrick Higgins, worth $100 million, said: “The country needs to address excessive regulation if it is to improve wealth creation.”Ibid

Although at least one  United States think-tank and the “Wall Street Journal”  “rank New Zealand as already having the highest level of freedoms for business in the world.  The Heritage Foundation’s “index of economic freedom” puts New Zealand fourth overall, with a score of 99.9 for business freedom.

Clearly, tax cuts and increases in profits have shifted wealth upwards – not shared it around. Certainly the “trickle down” theory now applies only to meteorological services predicting upcoming rain falls.

This “gushing up” of wealth has been written about in the US “New York Times”. A very simple illustration showed where wealth has been accumulating – and who has been missing out,

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Interestingly, the great divergence of wealth, productivity, and incomes started around the late 1970s, early 1980s.  It was also about the time that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were elected into office, and began neo-liberal, “free market” policies commonly referred to as “Reaganomics” and “Thatcherism“.

The New Right were ascendent, and implemented their policies with ruthless efficiciency. Those policies benefitted the rich – to the detriment of the unemployed, low-paid, and middle classes (who were too busy fighting each other to notice what was happening to them them).

New Zealand’s turn for a dose of  New Right came only a few years later, when Rogernomics took effect in 1984.

As wealth is accumulated upward (as the NBR so vividly illustrated), the real reason for denying low-paid workers an increase in the minimum  wage becomes more apparent; the rich would be forced to share some of that wealth. Their profits would be a little less.

Of course, this doesn’t stop some from gaining some very substantial wage increases,

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How They’re Paid

PRIME MINISTER New salary (backdated to July 1): $411,510. Was: $400,500.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER New salary: $291,800. Was: $282,500.
CABINET MINISTER New salary: $257,800. Was: $249,100.
MINISTER OUTSIDE CABINET New salary: $217,200. Was: $209,100.
SPEAKER AND OPPOSITION LEADER New salary: $257,800. Was: $249,100.
BACKBENCHERS New salary: $141,800. Was: $134,800.

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So remind me again, why we can’t increase the minimum wage? I’ve heard all the nonsensical, reactionary reasons – but they seem more predicated on a pathological disdain for the poor,  from  uninformed  middle class aspirationists, rather than any clear logic.

If New Zealanders want to continue  down the road of increasing wealth for the rich; growing disparity in incomes;  worsening poverty – this is the correct way to go about it. Our current policies and inequalities will achieve a society where the 1% Haves control most of the wealth; the vast majority remain in poverty or near-poverty; and the middle classes stagnate, blaming those on social welfare (the worst victims of these wretched policies) for their lack of upward mobility.

But the middle classes are looking the wrong way.

This may all sound like extremist left-wing politics. Maybe it is. But I don’t think so. The information I’ve gathered is freely available and easy to gather. The realities are all around us and the media – despite it’s glaring faults and preoccupations with trivia and crime stories – does present us with a view of what’s happening around us.

Many of us just choose not to look.

It’s easier to blame the poor; the unemployed; those of welfare.  And yet, if the current economic situation was not as distorted as it currently is – we wouldn’t have so many poor, unemployed, or on welfare.

An increase of $2 an hour would be a step in the right direction. Just ask the Prime Minister – taxpayers are paying him an extra $11,000 a year.

I wonder if paying all our MPs  those wage increases will result in any job losses?

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