Friday, 28 June 2013

Let them eat monuments

With grand announcements coming thick and fast about bridges, tunnels and stadiums, it looks like this Government might have found a bag full of money under its couch. Good for them.

And with Christchurch and Auckland Council leaders sitting around nodding as the grand announcements are made, it looks like they have too.

Isn’t that nice for them.

It’s obviously a big bag –a bag chock full with more than $25 billion—enough to buy $4.8 billion dollars worth of monuments in Christchurch, and $2.86 billion (plus cockups) to buy Len Brown’s train set. That’s on top of the $4 billion already being spent to complete the Western Ring Route, and around $3 to $4 billion for a second harbour crossing.   And on top of the $4.1 billion in debt the Auckland Council already holds on our behalf.

So that’s nearly$20 billion altogether on new monuments, adding to an existing $5 billion of Auckland and Christchurch council debt. (Not to mention the massive $58 billion the government already owes on our behalf.)

And of course, they won’t be paid for with a bag full of money they found under the couch.  They will be paid for with bags full of money they’re going to extract from your pocket.

And with just 1 million taxpayers in the country (virtually all of them outside Wellington) that’s a tab of around $20,000 each.

What could you have done with your $20,000? 

Or with all the engorgement of construction materials that this monumental spend-up is going to suck out of building other things—like houses?

You might think all the monuments are worth it. You might think they will make the cities more liveable (which is the argument being made about the Auckland Monuments). You might think it will add to cities’ prestige (which is virtually all the argument that exists about the build-them-and-they-will-come Christchurch monuments). But whatever you think, for or against, you’re going to be paying for them anyway. And the “prestige” of the projects will fall like manna from heaven on the head and shoulders of your autocratic leaders.

So it has always been.

One may see in certain biblical movies [writes Ayn Rand] a graphic image of the meaning of public monument building: the building of the pyramids. Hordes of starved, ragged, emaciated men straining the last effort of their inadequate muscles at the inhuman task of pulling the ropes that drag large chunks of stone, straining like tortured beasts of burden under the whips of overseers, collapsing on the job and dying in the desert sands—that a dead Pharaoh might lie in an imposingly senseless structure and thus gain eternal "prestige" in the eyes of the unborn of future generations.
Temples and palaces are the only monuments left of mankind's early civilizations. They were created by the same means and at the same price—a price not justified by the fact that primitive peoples undoubtedly believed, while dying of starvation and exhaustion, that the "prestige" of their tribe, their rulers or their gods was of value to them somehow.
Rome fell, bankrupted by statist controls and taxation, while its emperors were building coliseums [ to deliver bread and circuses]. Louis XIV of France taxed his people into a state of indigence, while he built the palace of Versailles for his contemporary monarchs to envy and for modern tourists to visit. [Meanwhile, as the bread in the kingdom dwindled, his queen Antoinette was advising her subjects’ rulers to “Let them eat cake.”]

And now, in a New Zealand already mired in debt, we’re going to tax ourselves further into penury to make ourselves believe we’re making our cities liveable.

Do any of these political leaders really believe anything they say about making cities affordable?

PS: Want affordable local councils? Consider supporting the Affordable ticket: http://www.affordable.org.nz/join-donate

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