Musings on the Taxpayers Union

When the Taxpayers Union (TU) first formed, I did find it amusing that its typically right wing founders used a generically left wing term to name their product.

The key objective of the TU is a ‘fair and efficient tax system’. Who can argue with that? Currently our tax system is highly inefficient and hugely unfair. It taxes productive incomes earned through our efforts and rewards rent-seeking behaviour by not taxing unearned economic rent.

The question on the minds of many is whether the TU is a non-partisan group? Recent comments in the NZH by TU co-founder Jordan Williams might suggest not despite the non-partisanship noted on the TU website.

 When asked about deaf MP Mojo Mathers’ taxpayer-funded trip to be interviewed on a small provincial radio station, Williams made the following comments:

 It’s amazing that she has so little to do with her time to actually travel to a community radio that probably has as many listeners as you can count on your hand

The only silver lining is that the time spent travelling to go on the station in the middle of nowhere is less time spent dreaming up new ways to spend tax payers money

Williams’ comments leave the impression that he sees this particular instance as ‘government waste’. Either that, or his comments were purposively partisan.

Here are the issues as I see them:

  1. Are Williams comments ableist, is he suggesting that disabled MP’s ‘dream up new ways to spend tax payers money’ on wasteful expeditions that reach only a ‘handful’ of people; or
  2. Is Williams commenting on Mathers position as a Green MP – noting the Greens are largely attacked by ‘right wing partisans’ for overtaxing and overspending.

On point 1, if Williams sees taxpayer funding for disability as ‘wasteful government spending’ then he is hardly promoting a ‘fair’ tax system. Fairness is not simply about who is taxed but also about how any revenue collected is then redistributed back to society.

On point 2, if Williams was making partisan comments, then he has spoken out of step with the TU, since the TU acknowledges that:

Individual members have their own political involvements, but as an organisation the Taxpayers’ Union will be vigorously independent in promoting the interests of New Zealand taxpayer.

What about the NZH for even raising this as news?

As @lmfbs points out its unclear whether the TU approached NZH with this story or vice versa. How does it change the story? Arguably, it changes the context and the motivation behind the reported comments.

Additionally, while the NZH story indicates the author was seeking the view of the TU on whether Mathers trip was value for taxpayer money, its unclear if they interviewed Williams in his personal capacity or as a member of the TU. Yes, they refer to Williams as a Director, but was that on the assumption he was speaking in his capacity as a TU member or in his personal capacity?

For many, the answer probably doesn’t matter, because as @ColeyTangerina points out:

There is a genuine disdain for the TU because of those involved in founding it and their very public political partisanship. The sentiment conjured up by Williams’ comments,  irrespective of whether or not they were misreported, adds weight to the scepticism about the the true nature of the TU. However, as a critic of the NZ tax system, I’m not against the establishment of the TU in principle,  I’m just not convinced it won’t devlove into some partisan right wing think tank. Although, others probably think it already is.

Like the TU, I do think that central government exerts too much control over society, and in my view many functions such as education and health could be dealt with at the local level. Obviously, these are topics for future posts, but I think its worth thinking about how we reduce the size and power of central government without destroying vital public services. Local governance creates local opportunities and allows communities to participate in the issues that affect them.

Taxes captured through a central body reinforce a centralised state and therefore central state planning. The TU appear to promote reducing the size of government, providing tax cuts for business and opposing progressive taxation, but at this stage it offers no innovative alternatives. Perhaps, it just means another tax movement needs to be established to challenge these orthodox approaches to economics and taxation.

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