Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Playing the "Maori card"

The news seems to be in pre-christmas slowdown mode, with little of interest to comment on... but at least I have something for today: that leaked ACT memo about how to play the "Maori card".

Firstly, the fact that they are even considering pitching to those who want to "demonise" Maori shows their moral bankruptcy. Decent political parties simply do not pander to racists in this way. But then, ACT has consistently appealed to the worst elements of New Zealand society - racists and the "hang 'em high" brigade - in order to grub votes, so it's really no surprise that they're considering doing it again.

The substance of their campaign though will center on the claims that Maori get from the Government three times the amount they pay in taxes, and "each working New Zealander subsidises Maori $3300 a year".

On the former point, this is simply redistribution in action. The poor also receive back (either as explicit payments or government-provided services) far more than they pay in taxes; the rich receive far less. We know that ACT objects on principle to any redistribution, but that's one of the chief reasons why they aren't in government and never will be.

But it's the second point that is most interesting. $3300 per "working New Zealander" sounds like a lot of money, but only because its playing on people's ignorance of how much money the government spends. Total crown expenditure in 2003/2004 is estimated at $55 billion (Government 2003/04 Key Fiscal Aggregates); according to stats NZ today there were 1,939,000 in the workforce, meaning that each working New Zealander's share of government expenditure is $28365. If we accept ACT's figure, then expenditure on Maori accounts for 11.6% of this.

Interestingly, Maori make up about 15 percent of the population. In other words, what ACT's figures show is that we are underfunding Maori on a per-capita basis. By ACT's own anti-redistributive logic, that means the government should be giving them more money.

(Yes, "per working New Zealander" is a rather curious way to put things, and the only reason I can think of for doing it that way is that it allows ACT to double the amount of money involved. Misleading figures indeed...)