Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Pirates, porridge, death and taxes

It has been a good week for porridge recipes. Earlier in the week, Don Brash unveiled his porridge of the future, which is based on a predictable twenty year old recipe he copied off Roger. Porridge judges John Key and Bill English commented that this recipe was too politically hot for the body politic. Cactus Kate had to present an even spicier dish just to make the 2025 Taskforce's 48 declarations seem insipid in comparison.

There are a few points of interest in the 2025 report that might bear closer inspection, moments of lucidity if you will. But the unrelenting zeal of means and ends has been so mangled with benny bashing, 90s Russian Roulette sell-offs, added pork flavouring and a sprig of gerrymandering, it makes it all too easy to dismiss as the bizarre and disjointed ravings of rich old white men hankering for devilled kidneys.

WTF = Russian Roulette sell-offs? Well, that whole sell-off of SOEs for the hell of it, offload all the furniture and hope this thing floats with nothing left in it. Selling TVNZ right now would get nothing more than chump change. Shutting down the long con of the Cullen fund right now and paying down debt at the worst possible part of the cycle is also counter-productive.

Pork flavouring, you say? What has Zespri's monopoly on kiwifruit marketing got to do with enriching the masses? Didn't Turners and Growers, well known associates of certain Taskforce 2025 compilers, merge with former apple and pear monopoly Enza not so long ago? That isn't a productivity strategy, that's special pleading.

The gerrymandering is obvious for what wasn't considered by the taskforce as pivotal to NZ's future. There's the stunning omission of any form of land and capital tax. They lost the argument right there. In the face of the finance company implosions, there's no sign of corporate regulation. Even Alan Greenspan admits that that argument is lost.

And quite how you hack off some 15 billion dollars of government spending in three years without setting off an internal economic shock, I don't know.

So, dismiss that bad bowl of porridge from the Goldilocks menu. While we're waiting for the Tax Working Group to put the finishing touches on its porridge, Gareth Morgan has put out an appealing, tax neutral recipe sketched on the back of a napkin. This one looks much more appetising.

First, let's exile all the B Ark Golgafrinchans. Introduce a Minimum Guaranteed Income of ten grand a year and screw the other paperwork. Kill the overhead non-jobs right there. Introduce a tax free threshold of $40,000 per annum for every man, woman and child. Slap the equivalent of a 25 percent flat tax on everything. Including the family home, LESS the average indexed home price.

In one fell swoop, Gareth Morgan has done what seventy-odd thousand taxpayer dollars on the 2025 Taskforce took months to accomplish. Something realistic, novel and lateral-minded at bugger all public expense.

The 2025 Taskforce can blab all it likes about property rights, but they never talk about the price of property freedom. Taxes. The opportunity cost of holding onto vacant land here right now is sweet FA. As far as I understand matters, vacant land and buildings is actually a tax write-off.

That's not right, especially when housing affordability it at the usurious levels they are at present. I'm not talking interest rates here, but the glutinous appetite of the NZ small investor in haggling each other up into absolutely stupid prices on property. Wars have been fought for less.

The Romans, the British and the Maori have this in common; a use it or lose it principle to property rightsholding. A land tax makes landholders think twice about holding onto under-utilised land when others go wanting. A land tax is certainly much more politically palatable than the other alternative; legalising squatting.

I'm not kidding. Every time I walk past the old Molesworth Tavern, I'm reminded how absolutely mental our property rights are in this country.

View Larger Map

Yeah, it's Thailand government land technically, and probably beyond NZ law to do much about. But awful fucking eyesores like this, right down to For Lease signs elsewhere on empty shop fronts, makes me grit my teeth. Call it a broken windows policy for tenancy, but something has to be done to leverage the landed gentry to yield to more productive usage.

Gareth Morgan has made a better porridge base for the Tax Working Group than Brash's mob. Clean, bold flavours without the bitter after taste that permeates Brash's corned beef palette. I have high hopes that the Tax Working Group will find a porridge recipe that will taste just right for the voters.