1492725480422 - David Slack: Govt keeps chutzpah alive – one $2 billion settlement at a time

David Slack: Govt keeps chutzpah alive – one $2 billion settlement at a time

OPINION: Chutzpah, they say, is a man murdering his mother and father then asking the court to show him mercy “because, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am an orphan”.

Keeping the tradition of chutzpah alive this week, the government took time to compliment itself on making a $2 billion pay-equity settlement. It was almost as though Kristine Bartlett and her union had not had to fight the whole way through the courts for decent pay because the government didn’t seem to care for the idea at all.

It is good news, though. Good news for 55,000 of our hardest-working people – the ones caring for the oldest and most infirm, the ones who do the meals, the dressing, the bathing, the showers, the toileting, the heavy lifting, for long hours, for meagre money.

And yet some people – the kind who like to come together online and spray and splash their bitterness against a wall – saw it differently. “How can you have a pay increase with no increase in productivity? How!? How!?” they asked.

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*Fred Dagg left and took the old ways with him
*Hard to say but it must be said

This was socialism, they railed. They said: “If you don’t like your pay, find a job that pays you better. No-one’s stopping you”. And they demanded: “Who pays for pay equity?” as if this was something no-one had considered.

Imagine someone is being paid just $6 an hour by a ratbag restaurant owner. When the exploitation is discovered and the ratbag is made to put the rate all the way up to minimum wage, does he dare ask where the extra productivity will come from?

More to the point, what proportion of the productivity gains of the past three decades have found their way into the pay of ordinary workers, would you say?

But never mind all that. Do they at least have a point that these snowflakes should take their labour somewhere else if they don’t like it? Doesn’t the market know best and doesn’t it pay you what you’re really worth?

Maybe. But does the mighty market really know what it’s saying, or does it mostly talk with its mouth stuffed full of foie gras?

If you think of all the people you know, and everything they’ve done, how truly would you say that what they’ve earned reflects the value of their contribution?

So much of all this is arbitrary. Just 30 years ago, teaching was a well paid job here. That relativity has fallen right away. In Finland, they value teaching greatly and teachers are paid handsomely. Here, we pay the big money to sharp guys in the dealing rooms and people who can sell luxury properties in Queenstown and Herne Bay.

The truth is that for a very long time women have been asked to subsidise the market with their goodwill. If men were responsible for the bulk of childcare, for example, how much of it, if any, do you think would be unpaid?

How could anyone begrudge a decent wage to a person who is tending to the sick and the aged and the frail? Their work is hard. If we really believe in fairness and decency, we should be paying them properly.

This deal the government has done is a kind of socialism, yes. But what history has shown many times now is that things work best when you balance market forces and their excesses with the intervention of the state: taxes, and regulation; public money, for the public good.

Call it a useful trial run for the universal basic income, as robots and automation take more of our jobs and we being to wonder if maybe the state might need to step in and tax some of those robot earnings and share them around.

There is a Chinese tale about a man whose father had grown too old to be useful, who could do little for himself, who was just a drain on the family. The son decided it was time to say goodbye. He loaded his father into a wooden cart, trundled him up to the top of the mountain, parked him there and turned to walk away.

“Son,” the old man said, “at least don’t leave the cart here. Take it with you. Keep it for your son. He’ll need it one day to push you up here when you’ve grown old and useless.”