Gordon Campbell on political rhetoric, and the Dark Triad

Unfortunately, the systematic use of tax avoidance strategies – by corporates and by wealthy individuals – is not occurring in a vacuum. At an accelerating rate, new technology is wiping out the sort of jobs in the retail sector, white collar professions and transport industry that up until now, have sustained the middle class. The winners circle is shrinking. At the same time, populations are ageing and healthcare needs are expanding in every developed country on the globe. Meaning: more and more of the care of the aging boomer generation will fall onto families who are currently losing their stable incomes and who are becoming reliant (at best) on short term insecure contracts, and on multiple low paying jobs. Simultaneously, governments are watching the tax revenues that might enable them to respond to social need – assuming they felt inclined to do so – vanish into offshore tax havens, and via a range of ‘grey area’ tax dodges.

Elsewhere, governments in North America and Europe seem aware of these converging forces. At least a debate is occurring in the U.K about whether governments are gearing up to eliminate the channels for tax avoidance with quite the same righteous zeal they’ve shown in recent years about cracking down on benefit fraud. Here though, not so much. The Key government continues to live in denial about the ease of avoiding tax here, at least for those who have the means to afford the necessary tools. At the same time, much of its efforts continue to be directed into areas that are more politically convenient, such as pursuing the trickle of money lost annually in benefit fraud. So far, we certainly haven’t heard government direct the same scorn and scapegoating language (used on beneficiaries) at the rich who consciously push the legal boundaries on tax avoidance. Spongers on expense accounts tend to be treated with more respect.

So it goes. For years, the incidence of benefit fraud has never matched the political rhetoric. A special fraud intelligence unit was set up in 2007 within the Social Welfare department to detect benefit fraud. Here’s how I reported on its track record back in 2011:

Last year [2010] the department checked 29 million records, and found the benefit fraud rate (as a proportion of the total benefits paid) was a miniscule 0.10 per cent. A declining number of prosecutions – from 937 in 2009 to 789 last year – resulted. Of the $16 million in benefit fraud detected [in 2010] a proportion was carried out by social welfare staff – ten of whom were sacked last year for ripping off the system – and not by beneficiaries themselves. While any level of benefit fraud is unacceptable, the $16 million a year currently being incurred is hardly an intolerable burden. Last year, New Zealanders spend $16,1 million a day on impulse purchases.

Even five years ago, it was already clear that tax dodging by corporates was a far, far bigger problem than benefit fraud:

Moreover, other forms of unacceptable behaviour leave benefit fraud far behind in the dust without attracting the same negative stereotypes. The major foreign owned banks for instance finally agreed in late 2009 – and only after being pursued at great expense through the courts by the IRD – to cough up $2.2 billion of what they owed in unpaid taxes. Meaning : the settlement figure for this case alone was about 140 times greater than the total amount lost in benefit fraud last year..

In large part, what sustains the political rhetoric on benefit fraud is the hostility that exists between the working poor and those on benefits. Governments have done their best to stoke this resentment. They can earn votes and build their political careers from doing so, in the name of ‘welfare reform.’ When a previous National government mounted a major attack on beneficiaries – ie, the “Welfare Time Bomb” exercise of 1997 – the programme included dob-in-your-neighbour proposals and anti-welfare pledges that were posted to every single household in New Zealand.

Nothing much has changed. Earlier this month, the No Right Turn site followed up on UK evidence that 85% of these tip offs proved to be false allegations, and sought figures on the corresponding situation in New Zealand. The inquiry elicited this fascinating official document. It contains this breakdown:

In the 2014/15 financial year, the Ministry received 12,530 fraud allegations from the public, staff and other agencies. Of those, 11,592 allegations were received from the public….[T]he Fraud Investigation Unit completed a total of 5,342 fraud investigations and 927 successful fraud prosecutions in the 2014/15 financial year. There were also 1,619 overpayments worth over $51.7 million established during the 2014/15 financial year.

As NRT commented:

Overpayments aren’t fraud, and most aren’t detected as the result of public allegations (most are WINZ fucking up, which means someone getting a different sum from that which they are entitled to). There’s also caveats around investigations and prosecutions not necessarily occurring in the same financial year as allegations. Still, the 2014/15 figures aren’t out of line with their publicly released figures for past years, so we can get a ballpark solution. MSD seems to have taken “successful prosecution” as a proxy for “substantiated”, so if we take them at their word, it suggests that 92.6% of all allegations of benefit fraud are false. And even if you buy into their “overpayments are fraud” line, then that means that 87% are false. Looking at investigations, over 80% of them don’t result in successful prosecution. Which really makes you wonder if we’re getting value-for-money from the Fraud Investigation Unit. Because on these statistics, it looks like they’re mostly just spinning their wheels on pointless and intrusive snooping into innocent people.

Right. This willingness of officials and politicians to repeatedly take “overpayment” (ie the department screwing up) and attribute it to the people on the receiving end ( “benefit fraud”) is not limited to New Zealand. Here’s an example of a US politician being caught out doing exactly the same thing.

What’s the point I’m making here? Mainly to underline just how very different the tone of the official response to the Panama Papers has been, compared to what we normally hear from our leaders about benefit fraud. Apologists point out that tax avoidance is legal, and that many foreign trusts provide means for ordinary folk to protect their savings and investments. Well, cry me a river. By contrast, the fact that benefit entitlements are legal and that 99% of New Zealanders will be beneficiaries at some point in their lives, hasn’t saved the mere receipt of a benefit from being widely stigmatized, for political gain. The day that we hear politicians lamenting the extent of inter-generational dependency on foreign trusts by the wealthy, will be the day when we know we’ve got somewhere.

Be Careful Out There

Automatically, the phrase “Dark Triad Personality Constellation” could make you think of John Key, Bill English and Steven Joyce. Not so. In academic circles it signifies the convergence of Narcissism, Sociopathology and Machiavellianism. (Again : Key, English, Joyce? But no.) The Dark Triad turns out to be an element in an influential British academic study that has sought to answer empirically the same question that used to bedevil Mel Gibson: namely, what do women want? Allegedly, the majority of women are attracted to high Dark Triad personalities, and this supposedly could be a determining factor in what the academics call ‘mating strategies’ and the ‘evolutionary arms race.’ Hmmm. Many women seem attracted to the bad boys. Who knew – I mean, apart from the Shangri-Las? Here’s the academic paper that seeks to prove it.

Fun With Parquet Courts

For the past few years, the NYC band Parquet Courts have been a reliably unpredictable presence – they’re got the kind of off-kilter smarts that a previous generation used to attribute to Steely Dan, assuming that Steely Dan had come from a hardcore, DIY background. There’s a laconic, wilful Pere Ubu element in there, too, and – most obviously – entire burning chunks of classic Velvet Underground. Traditions exist to be ransacked.

Here are a couple of tracks from this month’s new Parquet Courts album, Human Performance. “Berlin Got Blurry” is a pretty amusing concept, even more so given that the arrangement features a Western-movie guitar riff, and hokey organ…This is not what your album covers usually tell you about Berlin.

And they double down on the smartass verge-of-irritation factor on the album opening track “Dust”.

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9 Comments on Gordon Campbell on political rhetoric, and the Dark Triad

  1. …or the other idea about what tax is that is being thrown about an idea that brings both poor( beneficiary ) and wealthy( tax avoiders) together as victims of a scam where a private debt collection agency collects money from the people using the govt.
    The people are still forced to borrow money with interest from the private banksters (who get the people’s confiscated tax dollars in interest payments) to pay for education etc.


  2. A successful “dark triad” personality has to have some something going for them even if they are so called “bad boys”. I don’t think the typical New Zealand male dark triad personality has any class whatsoever. They tend to be basically just violent, unintelligent individuals who lose whatever personal charm they had the older they get till by the time they are in their 40s they are basically just loser psychotic types. I look at the males I see around and I certainly wouldn’t be attracted to many of them as people if I was woman. I’d probably go gay.

  3. There is no such thing as a “successful” psychopathic personality.
    Don’t “go gay” or be sexist just yet David, Hellary Clinton is the classic dark triad personality (psychopath) in a woman’s body. The traits Gordon mentioned are not male/female.
    Even the question “What attracts a woman” comes from the ignorant patriarchal academic culture that is unknowingly promoting dysfunction psychopathy “brand bad boy” .
    Woman as an oppressed gender have long been conditioned by Hollywood and TV programming to accept the male psychopath as normal.
    The normal sensitive,gentle, intelligent and caring male as “weak and undesirable”.

  4. That is true Helen -there are sweeping generalizations. Many sane woman and men are repulsed by evil, selfish and greedy personalities.
    Culturally the bad/evil archetype is now seen by many deluded people as “good” and it is not a gender specific.

    Beneficiary bashing in its many forms is the NZ govt specialty, and yet the govt has no problems taking money from the poor beneficiaries in tax and using their name to create money( for the banksters)/debt (for the people).

    The tax avoidance leak is all about the NWO setting up its global tax reforms to blanket the globe. It will not change anything for the .0% who do not pay tax and have their finger in the tax pie.

  5. “In large part, what sustains the political rhetoric on benefit fraud is the hostility that exists between the working poor and those on benefits.”

    Kernel of truth there (we all know working people who are contemptuous of beneficiaries), but still a sweeping assertion, Gordon.

    The New Zealand Election Study data over the last 20 years suggest the key divide on attitudes towards beneficiaries is not income or employment status but ideology. A large-to-overwhelming majority of Right-Wing (and National) voters hold negative views, as do a slight majority of Centrists. A majority of the Left (and Labour/Green voters), however, DO NOT attribute negative attributes to those on a benefit.

    As a rule, it’s roughly a 70/30 split (70% of Nats/Right negative, 30% positive or neutral and the polar opposite for the Left).

    Income, however, does indeed play a role, but it’s the reverse of what you’ve implied: it’s actually the middle income and, especially, the affluent who are harshest in their judgements. For example NZES 2011: “Should there be more or less public spending on unemployment benefits ?” Those choosing LESS or MUCH LESS by Household Income – Low Income 36%, Medium Income 56%, High Income 69%. Same Question by Asset Ownership: No Assets 39% / Three or More Assets 71%.

    So affluence wasn’t QUITE as important as Ideological proclivity in shaping attitudes towards beneficiaries but it wasn’t too far off it.

    Interestingly, although older voters are more likely to vote for the Right, they are also mildly more sympathetic to the unemployed and other beneficiaries than the young and middle aged. Suggesting the minority of oldies who vote for the Left are the most sympathetic demographic.

    In general, there has been quite a hardening of attitudes towards welfare over the last 2 decades, with majorities now seeing the unemployed, for instance, as lazy and dependent and falling support for the idea that the Government has a responsibility to ensure a decent standard of living for the Unemployed.

    All of which means: it’s a bit unfair to point the accusatory finger at the working poor. A majority of New Zealanders have moved into fairly obnoxious and ill-conceived hard-hearted/tough love territory and that’s more likely to be evident in the wealthy suburbs of East Auckland than in battler Upper Hutt or South Dunedin, for example.

  6. Of course, you could be arguing that the Working Poor comprise the key battleground demographic between National and Labour – ie who wins the lower income working class / Precariat wins Government ? So that their views on beneficiaries are electorally relevant in a way that those of other demographics aren’t ?

    But, if that IS the argument, then I’d have to disagree there too. I don’t think poll and NZES data would sustain it.

  7. Swordfish the govt that the people vote for, which is creating more poverty and unemployment, these problems becomes just a catch for selling divisive political ideology?!
    University students in the grip of ‘Green’ ideology may indeed have been conditioned by marketed ideas to have no compassion for the poor/beneficiaries .

    Even having “attitudes” towards beneficiaries, judging people you do not know is social dysfunction. This dysfunction is the garnered attitudes of the dark triad personality types.Easy game for the psychopath, a divide and conquer by ideology.

  8. Real problems created by the Crown govt are being used to sell divisive political ideology.

    The problems created by the govt (of the day) are used as an argument to vote! Ha.

    Its much like the addled proposing of the solution to end (the world bank funded perpetual) war is to take on more refugees. Whereas it would be far better to propose to stop supporting the invasion of nations, to value life, to use diplomacy and to practice peaceful non participation.To stop funding terrorism.

  9. More government? More tax?

    The middle class disappears because of over-taxation. We should not pay tax at all. Without tax there is no need for tax heavens and offshore accounts. Government should not be allowed to borrow. Government should be funding itself from inflation. Finally we would benefit from technological progress. Read http://www.arstrongeconomics.com.

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