Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wednesday, 11 February: 'Shafting the poor' edition

McMoaning: Hot on the heels of the Business New Zealand CEO 'worrying' about the effects of the minimum wage "increase" (keeping in mind that it isn't really an increase in terms of prices), McDonald's has send out a spine-chilling warning about the potential effects of the change. The same reporter is involved, interestingly enough, although on this occasion it is unclear who approached whom for the article. According to Mark Hawthorne, the Macca's NZ managing director, the company "may be forced to increase prices and review plans for expansion." The fact that the wage change was "combined with other cost increases" is buried in the text. Even if this 'announcement' is something other than corporate propaganda - that is, even if the price rises and shelved expansion plans do actually happen - I can't see this as a matter of huge public interest warranting a reasonably large article on A3.

I was also amused to see that "McDonald's lifted all its youth workers on to adult rates" last March. What you actually mean there, Simon Collins, social issues reporter, is that McDonald's was forced to pay all its workers 'adult' wages after the government abolished youth rates, after a long campaign by unions. How generous of McDonald's to meet their statutory obligations. It reminds me of an ad run in US newspapers by ExxonMobil after the Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989: Congress, shocked by the extent of the mess, finally passed legislation enforcing the preventive measures, such as double-hulled oil tankers, that Exxon and the other oil giants had spent years (successfully) lobbying against. Not at all discouraged, Exxon ran an ad describing the new technology they were implementing that would ensure such a disaster could never happen. It all sounded so good, one wondered why they had never done it before. The message here, Simon, is this: corporations like Exxon or McDonald's have enough means to provide their own PR. The last thing we need is you licking their arse as well.

Editing the editorial: The Herald editorial does not exactly have a reputation for being radical. "In more benign times," it begins, "the minimum wage tends too often to be viewed in isolation, with little heed paid to its place in the wider economic picture." Presumably, this means too much worrying about low-income earners ability to live (or, as this editorial euphemistically puts it, "the purchasing power of the country's lowest income earners would be diminished"), and not enough about the bottom lines of businesses - especially the large businesses that seem to employ the lion's share of minimum wage workers. Certainly, the economy is integrated to the extent that there are flow-on effects and so on, and of course these ought to be considered. But I don't think that this justifies the reactionary tone that the editorial board takes here. Apparently the only people who could disagree with the government's decision are the "hopelessly optimistic or the ideologically blinkered." Right then.

The rest of the editorial is dedicated to rejecting Unite's Matt McCarten's proposal to call a referendum to raise the minimum wage first to $15, and then to 2/3 of the average wage within three years. Agree or disagree (and I am unsure), this is hardly calling for the heads of the kulaks, yet the Herald leaps into hyperbole as if 'Mao' McCarten were calling for revolution. "As important as equality is, it does not outrank opportunity among the principles that adorn healthy societies," it says, clearly unfamiliar with the concept of equality of opportunity. "The unsaid canon underlying Unite's proposal is that individuality should be ignored [!]. As such, an unqualified youth [youths!!] new to a job would be paid close to the same as a fully trained worker with 25 years' experience who was on the average wage. If this has any relationship to egalitarianism, it can only be to the most ludicrous of extremes." I'm sorry, but what an outrageous load of shit - did they just let Roger Douglas (on whom more later) write the editorial? For a start, according to my 'calculations' the 'youth' would would be paid 2/3 of the average wage, which doesn't seem particularly close to me. And surely the "most ludicrous" of extremes would be paying them the same. Shrug.

It goes on, but I'm out of steam. It's too humid to get this angry.

"Your" views: As you may be aware, a small selection - six or so 'opinions' - from the previous day's YV topic is presented in the physical paper. You may also be aware that the daily Herald online poll results are shown next to the Views. Funnily enough, they were both asking the same question: was the minimum wage increase the right amount, or was it too much or too little? The results were as follows:

Was it right to raise the minimum wage by 50c to $12.50 an hour? (3113 votes)

57% Yes
29% No - too little
14% No - too much

Ignoring the fact that the editorial just described 1000 of its readers as "hopelessly optimistic" or "ideologically blinkered", it's vaguely interesting to see how the poll result corresponds with the views printed next door. Well, out of six people, none of them thought that the increase was too little. Matty is one who agrees with John Key: "The increase is fair in this market. It is a minimum rate. If people are on this they are either inexperienced or not worthy of a higher rate." Three others more or less seem to agree, pointing out that pushing it any higher would be disastrous. But two of the contributors not only feel that this rise was too much, but that the whole concept of a minimum wage is a communist plot:

Margot (Napier): "There should be no minimum wage. If an employee doesn't like their job, rather than griping, they know where the front door is."

Good old compassionate Margot. But of course there are crazy people around: what's concerning is that the Herald's reporting on this issue seems amazingly one sided. Seriously, did no one write on Your Views in support of a higher raise?

Back from the dead - or is he?: Normally I don't care to read the business section of the paper. It works like this. For better or worse, I have a very slight interest in business affairs (as opposed to general economic affairs), as do most of the population. Those who do have such an interest are called 'businessmen', and as such the business pages reflect the views and interests of that group. The problem is this becomes a vicious circle, to the point where the pages end up as either a massive gripefest or a self-congratulatory circle jerk. Anyway...

Today on the cover of the business section is the one, the only 'Sir' Roger Douglas. For those too young or too foreign to remember, Douglas was the Minister of Finance during David Lange's Labour government in the 1980s, and was primarily responsible for the massive economic and social changes that happened then. This is neither the time nor the place to argue about whether the changes were good or bad: suffice to say that, even if change was needed, he could have looked a bit less thrilled while he was doing it. Yesterday he unveiled his grand new scheme: an optional parallel tax system. Basically, you opt out of government services and, in return, pay much less tax. But whatever - the specifics of this ridiculous plan aren't even important, for the reason that they are just not going to happen. John Key has already refused to snuggle up with Douglas (in public, at least) and, apart from the optional aspect, this is just the same old thing you hear from the economic hard-right all the time, and which will never, ever happen, any more than Matt McCarten's wage 'plans'. My question is: why does the Herald business section give him a massive headline - "Douglas unveils his parallel tax plan", as if he were still in any position to implement it - a big photo and a lead article? I suspect I have already answered my own question in the paragraph above.

Thanks Leo: To finish off today's blog on a light, head-slapping note, we go to Letters page correspondent Leo Gordon of Taumaranui. Eagle-eyed Leo, who is possibly a retired police officer, and whom I imagine shaking his fist at children playing on his lawn, has spotted something awry in a Herald photo:

"A pity Monday's Herald photo of the toll road did not capture the number plate of the car in the outside of the south-bound lanes. The driver should be reminded that the outside lane of multi-lane highways is an overtaking lane, not a fast lane, and that having left other cars far behind, he/she should be in the inside lane."

Thanks for that Leo. You've singlehandedly brought 1984 a little bit closer.

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