Sir Roger Douglas Hard Right? No, They’re Hard Left

Commentary, Taxation, Sir Roger Douglas

One expects Prime Minister Clark or Finance Minister Cullen to describe conventional economic thinking as irrelevant “hard right” ideology. That sort of deception is their stock-in-trade.

But for Herald political pundit John Armstrong to claim that what I said last Thursday was to “spell out his ‘hard-right’ agenda for New Zealand’s economic salvation” is not only nonsense, but demonstrates how successful Helen Clark has been in labeling anyone who has an alternative policy as being “hard right”.

To call what I said “hard right” is hugely ignorant.

What’s “hard right” about adopting the education system of Helen Clark’s socialist heroes, Sweden? That’s broadly what ACT is advocating.

The great irony there is that Helen Clark and Dr. Cullen are behind the times even by socialist standards. The Swedish education system hasn’t been hard-left socialist since 1992. That year, the Swedes introduced what has always been ACT policy – where every child gets a scholarship to take to the school of their choice. This puts the power in the hands of individual teachers and parents, not the state, and not the teachers’ unions.

There’s only one party in Sweden that doesn’t support the competitive and thriving education system. And that’s the Swedish Communist Party.

ACT’s policy has always been designed to ensure that disadvantaged people have the same opportunity, security and dignity as more affluent people do.

ACT’s objective is to move low-income people from a system that locks them into state dependency into a system where all New Zealanders can make constructive personal choices. Surely that is basic to the dignity of human beings.

Let’s examine what I said on Thursday.

Health – What’s “hard right” about guaranteeing people in pain an immediate operation instead of dying on a waiting list?

That’s what ACT’s health policy would do.

My doctor tells me I need a knee reconstruction. I have health insurance so any time I decide, I can have it within four weeks.

What’s “hard right”, then, about giving all New Zealanders a tax break so they can purchase a health policy like mine and get immediate treatment when they need it?

ACT is not “hard right”. ACT cares enough to come up with solutions that cure the problems we face, not add to them.

When it comes to two of the most important areas for people – education and health – The two largest parties Labour and National, and all the other parties are hard left. They’re not even centrist, they’re hard left.

Oh, they’re happy I opened up most of the old state monopoly industries to healthy competition as Finance Minister from 1984-90, they’ve got used to that and have seen the huge benefits obtained from doing so. They’re happy that we moved from what was essentially a communist look-alike system that nearly bankrupted New Zealand to a free market system that gives us free choice in these areas.

They’re not about to change back. Yet for some strange reason when it comes to the remaining monopolies, the social ones that I didn’t get around to reforming in the 1980s, for some strange reason they favour keeping our Stalinist education and health systems.

I also suggested we might rent hospital wards to doctors, provided they could demonstrate an increase in productivity of 50 per cent and pay them a fee for services provided.

The facts are simple: without efficiency, improved equity is impossible to achieve. This policy would improve efficiency (output up 50 per cent) while improving equity 50 per cent, more people getting the treatment they need. This policy, aimed at ending hospital rationing, where sick people queue for surgery like the Soviets queued for bread, is not “hard right” policy, just common sense.

Tax – in the area of taxation, I made three suggestions:

  • Inflation-adjust the tax brackets to their pre-1999 value. Dr Cullen’s refusal to do so has cost the average family at least $30 a week due to 24% inflation. Hardly “hard right” policy.
  • Drop Dr. Cullen’s envy tax of 39c so the top rate of tax will be 33c.
  • Make the first $20,000 of personal income tax-free so people can afford to buy their own healthcare cover and risk insurance such as accident and sickness cover. Hardly “hard right” policy.
  • Kiwis need to understand that the issue is not equity or efficiency as Labour would portray it; it is equity and efficiency.

    The Clark/Cullen Government has increasingly labeled opponents who seek change as seeking heartless efficiency at the expense of equity. The reality is that without efficiency, equity is impossible. Waste consumes resources, people’s time and energy that would otherwise be used to improve outcomes throughout the community.

    Wasting people’s time and ability is of no use to anyone. Yet that’s what we do now.

    It is nonsense to pretend, as Dr. Cullen did, to my suggestions that a change in the status quo is a reduction in the overall level of equity.

    That’s simply putting the politics of doing nothing ahead of everyone’s wellbeing. We can and we should do better. But we won’t do better with the same old failed policies.

    If New Zealand is to succeed, we need to implement programmes designed to go to the root of the country’s difficulties, and give lasting benefit to New Zealand.

    We need to do that without fear or favour, we need the guts to do what we know is right. That’s why I am standing for ACT, because no one else has the guts to say what’s wrong and work to fix it.