Last week everyone in The New Zealand Initiative was amazed to read in the Otago Daily Times, recycled in The New Zealand Herald, that in effect we advocate the decimation of New Zealand’s welfare state.
This ludicrous assertion was attributed to a Brian Roper at the University of Otago. Here is the full quote:
”If you look at the New Zealand Initiative, which is the successor to the Business Roundtable, they want government expenditure reduced to 20% of GDP or lower, which would be the lowest level percentage in the OECD. That could only be achieved through the decimation of New Zealand’s welfare state.
”There is no end-point to their demands.”
Naturally we contacted this sage for clarification. It turned out that he could offer no New Zealand Initiative statement whatsoever to support his assertion.
None. Zero. Zilch. It would be hard to conceive an emptier assertion.
The pathetic best he could do was to claim that anything that the New Zealand Business Roundtable had ever written and we had not explicitly disowned must represent our position!
Well we have some news for him. It doesn’t. The same applies to statements made by The New Zealand Institute. (These two organisations merged to form The New Zealand Initiative and they did not have the same views.)
Perhaps we should add at this point that Brian Roper happens to be an associate professor in the political science department. According to this piece of staff information on the University’s website he “has been a political activist for more than twenty years, and has been involved in a wide variety of progressive struggles and campaigns”. Apart from politics his listed research interests include; social inequality; gender and feminism and Marxism.
OK, doubtless many readers will be thinking “Say no more. What else could you expect from a Marxist ideologue? Move on.”
Well, actually there are at least four more things that we think are worth saying.
First, back in March 1996, in a pre-election document, Moving into the Fast Lane, the Business Roundtable did indeed advocate reducing central government spending to 20% of GDP, but not until 2005 and even then the goal was conditional on fast economic growth. Nothing in the programme implied the decimation of welfare spending. That very fear confuses the level of spending with a spending ratio.
Second, Roper appears to be confusing a ratio for central government of operating spending to GDP with an OECD general government spending ratio. The OECD ratio includes spending by all levels of government and includes components of capital spending.
Third, in our view policy should aim to enhance wellbeing. Roper proposes a different goal–to preserve or enhance state welfare spending as a percentage of GDP. The pursuit of that goal could involve opposing reducing middle class welfare, getting people off the unemployment benefit and into productive work, raising the age of eligibility for NZS, and greater choice etc. It is obvious to us, but apparently not to Roper, that the goal of reducing welfare dependency by helping people into productive jobs is a very different from the goal of increasing welfare spending in line with GDP growth. Wellbeing and welfare dependency are not synonymous.
Fourth, Moving into the Fast Lane was submitted in association with the Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Wellington Chamber of Commerce. It was the view of the business community mainstream. It was not the view of some fringe Marxist ideologue.
Is it too much to expect an associate professor in one of our major universities to avoid making utterly groundless accusations in order to gratify some ideological fantasy? OK, no need for an answer. Time to move on.
But what about the media’s failure in this case to check for possible misrepresentation prior to publication?