Thursday, July 02, 2015

Why I support Winston

A Listener editorial warns against the  inter-generational war that politicians exploit, in particular, Winston Peters.

When it comes to inter-generational warfare, it is up to political leaders to be peace activists. Few debates are more pointless and depleting of nationhood and goodwill than those that involve the crude and sometimes cruel objectification of an entire generation. “Gen Y kids are too sheltered.” ”Baby boomers are greedy.”
None of us has any say over when we are born. Most of us do our best with the set of socio-economic cards we’re dealt. How we get on, singly or en masse, is not even necessarily within our control.
Yet the political rewards of pandering to one generation at the expense of others can be considerable for those wanting to divide and conquer. It’s in this militant vein that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is attacking attempts to curtail the fiscal burden of SuperGold Card entitlements. He has railed against the Government and local authorities continuing to cap discounts on buses, trains and the Waiheke ferry with a ferocity he should reserve for actual elder abuse.
To be fair, this is political territory he has legitimately carved out for himself. He has long made a virtue of defending the rights of the over-sixties, and they have rewarded him with a remarkably consistent show of support over his 22 years as New Zealand First founder and leader. His extraction from the Clark Labour Government of a scheme to give those aged 65 and older free non-peak travel on public transport is perhaps his crowning achievement. The card is a busy fulcrum for other discounts, and pensioners appreciate both the gesture and increasingly the reality of free daytime travel.
But they, and Peters in his influential advocacy, have a wider duty to consider the fair limits of these benefits. Yes, free travel does help reduce the isolation and loneliness older people can suffer. Over time they may lose the ability to drive; their network of friends shrinks; their partners die. Few New Zealanders would begrudge the very real benefits of a SuperGold Card subsidy.
However, in vigorously decrying the notion of any limits to this bounty, Peters and the grey lobby are inviting a nasty backlash. As with so many pithy social-equity debates, Auckland is ground zero for resentment. When Lycra-clad retirees are highly visible touring Waiheke vineyards on their pricey bicycles at taxpayers’ expense, while young families are struggling to heat their homes and afford fares to work and school, something has to give. Does the baby-boom generation really want to invoke the wrath of younger taxpayers, who could one day choose to turn off the superannuation tap?
The discussion about wealth redistribution and the role age plays is an entirely legitimate one. Greece should have engaged in it a long time ago. So I am quite happy for Winston to go about his special pleading for the elderly because it wakes up younger generations to how big government is. What's that saying? A government big enough to give you all you want is a government big enough to take it away, or words to that effect. That has literally come to pass for the Greeks.

I did have another fleeting thought about inter generational resentment and family members being pitched against one another. It was sparked by a comment on the article. Within the group of 65+ there are actually two different generations. two generations very unlike each other. In fact there may even be 3 at the margins. It is entirely possible someone over 100 (there are apparently more than five hundred) has a grand child collecting Super. There's a thought.


Anonymous said...

A good statement but the trouble with Winston is that he is an excellent politician, knows that talk is cheap and says what is politically expedient at any particular time. What he really thinks or stands for, apart from feathering his own nest, is a mystery.


JC said...

You do indeed need to be careful about how you describe older people.

For example the Baby Boomers are a group born 1946 to 1960 and given female fertility was about at it's highest by 1960 the majority of boomers will still be working and supporting retirees for another 5-10 years.

Then too, there is another substantial cohort often confused with the boomers, the Silent Generation born mid 1920s to the mid 1940s. The older ones are now very old but many of us have either only just retired or are working into our 70s.

You therefore have at least 3-4 generations of people with quite different attitudes. At the margins you have people with a colonial mindset to those early Gen X with attitudes much more like the BBs.

It also stands to reason that most of the BBs could not possibly have voted for the perks they are accused of engineering. Most were born 1950-60 and it would be the 1972 election before they started voting (age 21 the voting age) and you can't seriously suggest a 20 something had old age perks on their minds. And of course, it would be the 1980s before many could get into Parliament and even then Lange and Douglas (and Winston) were pre BB era.

Perks like ACC and superannuation were brought in by an older generation and even the Gold Card came in years before even the earliest BBs could take advantage of it.

On the other hand it was very much the BBs who absorbed the shock of the 1980s reforms and they who most significantly paid down the national debt of 76% of GDP in the mid 80s .. to zero by 2008 and it was they who introduced the increase from 60 to 65 for NZ Super in the 90s.

So I guess what I'm saying is that each generation is the recipient of the political goods and bad of previous generations and these generations merge and/or overlap in ways that make it difficult to ascribe praise or blame to any particular age cohort. Also, for better or worse we have allowed international bodies like the UN or OECD to determine the morality of our choices to a whole range of social things like health and safety, equality, old age, minimum wage etc. These outside standards help determine our competitiveness for things like reputation, migration and trade deals so blame or praise for our actions is nowhere near only our choice.


Anonymous said...

The most important fact that no politician will admit is that anyone other 55 won't get ANY National super - no matter what Key says. There isn't any money; it's not sustainable; it's just not going to be there.

David Seymour should just repeat that again and again from the rooftops --- and then force other parties to deal with the problem.

I still think the only appropriate remedy is immediate, across the board, cancellation - accompanied by similar cancellations of welfare, health & education - but then I'm literate. Most Kiwis and most politicians are not.

Anonymous said...

And just who inherits the wealth from all those groups. and wastes so much of it, spends it easy because they never earned it?