Is there a future for Labour and what will happen if they move to the right?

The Labour Party, as they reflect on their biggest loss in 92 years, is struggling to come to terms with the consequences of being environmentalists. No self-respecting westerner these days would say they weren’t concerned about the deteriorating environment. The threat of global warming is a massive wake-up call. Even the Rockefeller Fund founded on oil has just divested from coal and tar sands. Politicians finally have to face reconciling protecting the environment with creating the fiscal and monetary conditions for a thriving economy.

That is a huge challenge. The Greens can talk all they like about ‘smart growth’ and a ‘green economy’ but unless they address the money system and stop the growth imperative at is source 'smart growth' will just continue to be nice rhetoric.

9115760Over the last few years we have noticed the Labour Party aligning itself more and more with the Greens. But in the last weeks of the campaign Labour leader David Cunliffe actually stole the Greens rhetoric. He said, “It's got to be a clean, green, smart, strong economy” (14 Sept, Stuff)

So while Labour has moved towards the Greens, for strategic purposes it had also to distance itself from them right at the beginning of the campaign. Doing the splits eh? Electoral realities dictated that it could no longer afford to align itself with a party who questioned every job creation initiative the National Government started. But there is a large faction in the Labour Party that wants expressways, deep sea oil drilling, mining in conservation areas and fracking – all for the sake of jobs.

But Labour’s resounding defeat in the 2014 election should really be seen in the international context. Labour Parties and Social Democrat parties are struggling all over the western world – in Australia, UK and Canada and even Sweden they are losing ground. Cunliffe hasn’t got it on his own. All social democrat parties are struggling to reconcile protection of the environment with the economy so voters just cast their lot with the conservatives who promise “economic growth” (no matter what kind of growth). IN the case of New Zealand you can add in a personable Prime Minister with the common touch, a Leader of the Opposition who is prone to lecture and the challenge is almost insuperable.

The price of West Texas oil on 23 Sept 2014 was $91.50 and Brent Crude was $97, due to falling demand. But it is costing $100 a barrel these days to produce “tight oil”, the sort that is costly and difficult to extract. As Richard Heinberg recently wrote “Extracting and delivering those resources at an affordable price is becoming a bigger challenge year by year.” We have the perfect storm of peak resources, climate change and economic instability and no Labour Party is has the facility to deal with them. Moreoever it is no good reminiscing about the great days of Micky Savage, Norman Kirk or David Lange. The Labour Party now has a huge leap to take to adapt to the real world of 2014.

While the Greens move towards the middle, the Labour Party probably has to move to the right for electoral purposes. With so many environmentalists in the party these days they are damned if they align with the Greens and damned if they don’t. The alternative is for the Greens to move over and let Labour occupy more of their territory.

The challenge requires much more than bandaid solutions of Kiwibuild, raising minimum wages and Working for Families. It requires the complete rethinking the political economy, one which works for a post fossil fuel age.

Over the last three years the New Economics Party has been doing this and we have come up with some proposals. We believe it requires a massive change to the tax system and fundamental currency reform so that we get public creation of money with strict inflation control. Furthermore it requires recognising we live in the age of automation so a Universal Basic Income must replace our welfare system. The Labour Party has been talking jobs, jobs and jobs. But it is more realistic to talk of having enough money and enough choices. Only a Basic Income will emancipate the welfare system, improve working conditions and provide a real incentive to work.

As Michael Bauwens, Founder of the p2p (peer to peer) Foundation said “any movement dependent on labour and the power of labour is futile, because labour is disappearing.” They are stuck in a Cold War narrative and have no stories for the future. The workforce has also been casualised as employees are made redundant. Many of them set up a small consultancy. The trend continues. Labour is bleeding and becoming freelanced.

Is the future 3D printers in microfactories in small towns ?

Is the future 3D printers in microfactories in small towns ?

There is another factor. According to economic historian Philip Mirowski the left doesn’t understand neoliberalism. When they don’t understand it, they underestimate the cleverness of their foe and simply cannot counter it. Neoliberalism has re-engineered society. We need to tackle Capital in a different way, by disempowering it through the empowerment of people. Through real democracy, through new technology allowing real people to own the means of energy and production. Maybe this is 3D printers in microfactories in small towns with a local bank. Many on the right will get on board with that.

Perhaps we have to write Labour off and accept they are not a movement of the future. Do they really have to move into National’s space to better “play the game”? Well, it’s not a game, it’s about survival and it’s about now. Fewer and fewer people will vote. Labour will be seen as a weak ineffectual version of National. And if the Greens continue to sing from Labour’s songbook, they’ll likely stay at 10% too. The more they try and portray themselves as CEOs the further they will lag behind the international Greens movement.

However, given the fact that the Labour Party is unlikely to adopt either the massive currency reform, tax reform and welfare reform required for a redesign of the political economy, it may either continue to thrash itself to death or stagger on as a less environmental party. Neither option is good. The challenges of the post fossil fuel age will indeed be very hard on social democracy parties with a proud history.

by Deirdre Kent and Aaron McLean

Capital Gains Tax on shares fails to differentiate between land, capital and labour

Most of us spent some time as children playing Monopoly. The more properties you buy the more rents you collect. “I’ll buy Mayfair, its rents are high. Rent please!” Sooner or later you opponents are out of the game and you win.

I was intrigued to learn on TV3’s The Nation (Sat 6 Sept 2014) that Capital Gains Tax as proposed by Labour includes the gains you make on shares. I thought the whole idea of CGT was to discourage investment in property and encourage investment in the productivity sector. When replying to Lisa Owen on that point, Labour’s David Parker said it was quite fair. “The ordinary worker pays tax on every cent they earn so why not shareholders,” he said.

Well the gains on shares – which are earned and which are merely windfall profits? So I did some looking at the property investment companies listed with NZX and compared them with Xero, a software accounting company which makes its money from its leadership and its labour, and with A2 milk an innovative science based health oriented group.

PwC Tower-266x4001-3-the-terrace-4So thinking about investment and looking at the various types of companies, let’s look at New Zealand’s big property companies – Kiwi Income Property Trust, Goodman Property Trust, Argosy and DNZ. The National Business Review in 2012 said “listed property companies outperformed the NZX50 last year” The listed property companies reported 11.8% growth compared to the NZX50's 0.4% growth. There are 10 listed property companies in New Zealand and seven of them are listed on the NZX50 and account for 9.7% of the index weight.

If you want to know who owns the most valuable land in the country look no further than the listed property companies owning property in central Auckland and Wellington. Their skyscrapers house tenants as secure as Government departments and all the big names in retail and office. DNZ has warehouses at Wiri and Penrose that dominate the landscape.

Take Precinct Property for example. Their Wellington buildings included HP Tower, 125 The Terrace, State Insurance, Vodafone on the Quay, Pastoral House, No 1 The Terrace, Mayfair, AXA, Deloitte, 3 The Terrace and 29 Willis Street. In Auckland they have the PwC Tower, ANZ Centre, 151 Queen St, 21 Queen Street, and AMP Centre. Tenants include big law firms, big retailers, finance companies, Fonterra, Air NZ. Hewlett Packard and so on.

Argosy has properties in Woolston, Christchurch and the Albany Megacentre. Its tenants include The Warehouse, Briscoes, Mitre Ten, Bunnings, Farmers.

Every major shopping mall in the country seems to be owned by one of these property companies and they report occupancy rates between 96-99%. Tenants in shopping malls are NZ chains, international chains and supermarkets, with only about 10% being independent stores.

What is most intriguing is that they tend to borrow to invest, and Precinct has 37% leverage. (I recall just before the 1987 crash people borrowed to invest in shares and where did that end?) And they all keep acquiring new properties. Every year, their equity rises as properties are revalued higher each year, due to the activity around them.

When I looked at the shareholders of Precinct, (called a PIE or Portfolio Investment Entity for tax purposes) I found something new. Whereas in the 2010 annual report the shareholders didn’t raise an eyebrow, by 2013 report the major shareholder at 20% was National Nominees. Curious, I looked up the directors and found them to be four women, all with Sydney or Melbourne addresses. They each worked in a top managerial role in National Australia Bank.

This means that New Zealand’s most valuable land, our inner city land in Auckland and Wellington, is 20% owned by a Precinct, which is owned by an Australian bank, which in turn is largely owned by a variety of international banks. As someone tweeted back, “Nothing surprises me any more”.

Now what has this got to do with Capital Gains Tax? Well, firstly that property investment firms like Precinct will have most to lose from a even a very mild Capital Gains Tax and will be fighting it tooth and claw behind the scenes.

The point of Capital Gains Tax was, I believe, to get investment money directed to the productive sector not into land speculation.

8964030And why we pray can’t we invest in firms like Xero or A2 milk, both of which are based on entrepreneurship and labour, without being taxed? David Parker says it’s because workers are taxed on every dollar they earn so why shouldn’t investors be taxed. I thought that was what you wanted David? So why tax it? Your logic fails me.

A complete inability to differentiate between land, capital and labour is at the root of the poor thinking on Capital Gains Tax on shares. When men as bright as David Parker and David Cunliffe blunder into this, they should have time off to think. We in the New Economics Party say Government should tax what we hold or take but not what we do or make. Taxing labour is illogical. Taxing the monopoly use of the commons like land and minerals is logical.