The Drop-in Philosophy course, on 7 April, was intending to philosophically dissect the concepts that lie behind the question of what duties, as human beings we owe to each other and future generations/the planet. It is was soon decided that in the time available we could only do justice to the first half and not both.
It was suggested that New Zeeland is long overdue for a reassessment of its social values and associated political system. The latter could do with the development of a supervisory body; one that was “nonpolitical” being, in essence, a self-funding grass roots entity that has the right (and duty) to inform parliamentarians of current social standards/expectations of our central government.
Those standards would, maybe, rule out current levels of poverty, blind cost-cutting of health services, unstaffed police stations and homeless people. It is not enough for politicians to note that such things exist, it would be unlawful for them to exist at all.
It was pointed out that contrary to the values that dominated the political discourse since the 1930s we have seen first the rise of supply-side liberalism followed then by the orchestrated deriding of “nanny state”. The trend has been to ameliorate rather than cure social ills as the dominant social value has been that of “getting ahead” and hard luck on those who don’t.
The recent foreshadowed move to capital gains tax has been met with implacable opposition by a section of the community that is the best-off but who may well pay the least tax. Many multi-millionaires are believed to be paying none. It was opined that maybe if the real incomes and tax liability of all NZers were made an open book we would be better able to assess how the country might indeed be actively promoting inequality.
It is already apparent that the expectation of lower-to-middle earners owning a home is becoming a distant hope for many, while others own several high-end houses. Can that really be allowed to continue? Should we adopt the ancient rule of thumb of the Greek philosopher Plato that no-one should earn more than five (or some other low multiple) times that which is earned by the poorer segments of the population?
It was however recognised (in a mildly heated debate accompanied by the Roundabout’s delicious curly fries) that it is unlikely there will ever be a countrywide values conference to determine what our core values are to be. The very thought of their being more politicians in a kind of upper house goes against the current grain. The very idea of owning your own home is no longer uppermost in many minds.
However both sides fo the political fence seem to have acknowledged that Working for Families is here to stay, that an MMP-type was needed, that there are times when politicians have to swallow hard in the national interest (e.g. National will now vote solidly for gun control after Christchurch.)
While there is no community ‘upper house’ style initiative the main parties do now maintain confidential focus groups to trial the acceptability of their potential new policies. And, ironically, with the appalling policy mess of the Brexit exercise the Brits are calling their Parliament dysfunctional and pointing towards NZ for a much better model!