Last Monday, Gareth Morgan decided to release his new tax policy that would introduce a tax on "productive assets". This short post isn’t about the details of that policy and whether it would work or not. It’s about the rhetoric used in the discussion of that policy.
It started with the Paul Henry interview on Thursday. Morgan called Henry a “tax loophole cowboy” and Henry responded by calling Morgan a “wowery socialist”. At one point Morgan dismissed Henry with a casual “Don’t tell the economist what a reverse mortgage is mate,” and Henry accused Morgan of wanting a “socialist state”.
Then Jamie Whyte got into the mix to criticise Morgan with “Perhaps Victoria University did not cover the difference between consumption and income when Morgan was studying for his PhD.” Later, Gareth Morgan responded with “He's a moron like all libertarians” and also “Whyte is an economics ignoramus, as is Henry.” He later said that Whyte was an “Economic illiterate as is most of Far Right.”
To other people who have disagreed with his proposal, Morgan has said things like “Try Econ 101 b4 u blab” and “do your homework dickhead.” It’s only funny in the context that Morgan also said “abuse is lowest form of intellect. Try counselling.”
This is the stuff of Stuff comment threads. Name calling and abusive rhetoric gets in the way of having proper policy discussion. Morgan’s straight-talking vibe is something that probably makes him an attractive candidate for some, but it also makes him a divisive candidate who seems to refuse engagement and just dismisses opponents instead. It doesn’t help people have a meaningful discussion about his policy, and it certainly doesn’t help make the policy any better.
I wish we could elect politicians purely on their policies, but how they act and behave is just as important. They have to be role models for our society, and the more that they act like petulant children, the more our country sees that this behaviour is okay and emulates it. That's not how I want our society to turn out. We can do better.