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Just Give it Away!

February 28, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

Much debate has resulted from the recent increase to our politicians’ salaries. While a few people have defended the higher pay, most have been quite disgusted by it. Here are a few comments on the subject: “other areas need to be addressed before pay rises are given to politicians” and “politicians are generally hard working [and therefore deserve the increase]” and “they already get paid enough” and “they get enough” and “we should give it to people who need it.”

So the general consensus seems to be that politicians are paid too much. Here’s what the actual increases were (in thousands of NZ dollars): the prime minister’s pay increased from 428 to 452, a senior minister from 268 to 283, and an MP from 148 to 156. While those are fairly generous salaries they really don’t seem grossly excessive to me. Compare this with the pay given to senior business leaders: Theo Spierings, CEO of Fonterra gets over $3 million; the CEOs of the NZ branches of major Australian banks get more; many CEOs of companies such as Chorus, NZ Post, etc get well over a million.

If anyone really thinks that idiot in charge of Fonterra deserves that then I would like to know their justification. And as far as the banks are concerned – well I guess if stealing as much as possible from the citizens of New Zealand, and shipping the profits off to Australia while downsizing the workforce and cutting services is a good thing then fine, otherwise how is this performance good? And let’s look at some of the others: Solid Energy is a disaster, Chorus seem to be incompetent, etc, etc. It just goes on and on.

So if these bunch of immoral half-criminals get paid millions then surely the PM – whatever you think of him (and I’m no great fan) – deserves $450 thousand. After all, he is responsible for the whole country, not just one small aspect of it.

The problem is not so much what politicians are paid, it’s the whole system of pay we have, a system which increasingly pays the top earners a lot more while effectively cutting pay to the majority. And don’t give me that nonsense about these business leaders providing jobs and having so much responsibility that they are worth all they are paid.

Do they really provide jobs? No, because every large company replaces several smaller, less efficient ones which would normally have more staff (which is one reason they are less efficient) and large companies tend to sacrifice good service by operating with minimum staff (hence the wait to contact help lines, have repairs done, etc).

Are the CEOs really responsible? How many problems does the NZ dairy industry have to encounter before the competence of the CEO of the export monopoly is questioned? How bad does the situation at Solid Energy need to get before we start considering that maybe the management isn’t so great? How much more incompetence managing the fibre installation do we need to see from Chorus before we question their ability? I don’t see much responsibility at all.

I can’t see why anyone should get paid more than the person in charge of the whole country (remember the PM is only paid $452K). I also can’t see why anyone should get paid less than a fair living wage (about $19 per hour according to many estimates). If this misdistribution can’t be fixed by voluntary means then maybe a tax regime could do it. I would suggest a 90% tax rate for those making more than $200K per year.

But putting all of this aside, let’s get back to the problem of politicians being paid more than they actually want. After all, the PM asked the Remuneration Authority not to allocate an increase this year. All they need to do is donate all of it to a charity. It’s that simple.

I heard two politicians (John Key and Russell Norman) asked what they would do with their increases. Neither really gave a straight answer but said something like they would accept the increase but reminded us that they do donate to charity. Sorry, but that’s not good enough. We all donate to charity and many of us can’t afford it as much as they can.

How about an assurance that all of the increase will go to charity? It’s so easy to do and it redistributes the wealth in a good way. Also, it’s just the right thing to do. So, here’s a challenge to all New Zealand politicians: just give it away!

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