Thursday, July 28, 2005

Self Interest

It's election year in New Zealand. The country goes to the polls on the 17th of September. The Labour government has been in power for the past six years under Helen Clark. I voted for Labour in both of those elections (and, scarily enough, a recent election elsewhere). I'm not sure that I am eligible to vote in this election, although usefully I will be in the country just before so I can find out for myself. In the previous two elections it has essentially been a foregone conclusion that labour was going to win, but in this coming election it seems that the country of my birth could be in for a change. The National party under Don Brash is currently equal with Labour in the opinion polls on 39%, with the New Zealand First party under Winston Peters next on 7%. Under New Zealand's Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system the government will almost certainly be a coalition, with National and NZ First aiming to be coalition partners.

Simply put, from Left to Right, we have Labour - NZ First - National. In addition we have the Greens, the Progressives, Act, United Futures and the Maori Party. In my ignorance, I have no idea about much of those other parties, suffice to say that it is likely that almost all of them will win seats. All of this is by the by. I am hoping that NZ doesn't get a change in government because I don't trust Brash and Peters as they are both populist and reactionary politicians of the worst sort. I do here that Clark is losing the plot a bit, but in this case better the devil you know. But then, I am living in the UK, am essentially out of touch, except for what I am fed via the NZ Herald, Public Address and an email chat group of likely lads in NZ that periodically comes to life in NZ, but which most often discusses rugby.

However, in the past day or so, first National announced tax breaks and then secondly Labour announced a new policy for student loans. Now, I hate finance, I live in denial about it, but the second announcement did perk my ears up. The announcement went something like this:

"The Government will scrap interest payments on student loans held by people living in New Zealand, Prime Minister Helen Clark announced today. She said the proposed change, which would begin on April 1 next year, would massively reduce loan repayment times. "

Maybe it's an April fools joke. Now, I have a student loan and it's large. The reason it is large is because I studied from 1992 to 1999 with a year off in the middle. I lived away from home for most of that time and sure, I was a little (or a lot)irresponsible with my borrowing. In 2002 the government finally stopped charging students interest on their loans while they were studying. While I was studying my loan was rocketing while I could do nothing about it. Even if I had stopped borrowing (and eating) I would have been seeing my loan rise. Since I have been in the UK I have stepped up student loan repayments and are now making a sizeable dent in the bastard. If I felt inclined, I could go to a website and see how much I could save by going home using an online calculator. When I visit home next month I know I am going to be nagged about this by my mother. And if I was an economist I would work out how much I would be better off if I were to return home. I am sure I should be making these sorts of financial decisions, but as I say, I live in denial about it.

Maybe I'm being short-sighted, but I choose to live in Oxford because I have carved out a life for myself here. It is a life that I could not have lived in NZ, not because of what I am paid, or because of it's proximity to Europe, but because when I grew up in NZ and then later as an adult, I lived in the shadow of a lot of people. It took travelling 16,000 miles for me to effectively become my own man. Since discovering this, I have started to use this knowledge and self-confidence to spread my own shadow, if you like. That is, I have got myself involved in things I never thought I would have got involved in and I have been to places and met people that have challenged the way I think (thanks Patrick). I am now as content here as I have ever been. Sure, if I had bit more
money (or a love life) I might be more content, and maybe my decision to not go home and save money on my student loan might come back and bite me in the arse in a few years time, but that seems to be a risk worth taking.

Still, this could be a moot entry 'cos Don and Winston might win and then I certainly won't want to go home anyway.

Oh, and by the way, in response to, I like what you are trying to do. But, I need to say that I am afraid. However I have no plans to change how I lead my life. Next time I am in London (Sunday) I plan to use the tube. There's nothing to be afraid of in being scared, as it were, but it is all about how you respond to that fear and the terrorists WON'T be scaring me home.

Maybe we are on the same wave length after all.


Anonymous said...

It's interesting that you now consider home to be Oxford. Is it an act of democrasy or patronage to vote in a country that you don't live or pay taxes in? Besides which, voting is abdication, not democrasy.

That whole student loan thing is a bit of a mess. Given that it was labour that started the ball rolling with charging 'market' rates for tertiary education, it's only fair for them to say sorry, and at least stop charging interest.

I'm not sure how I feel about the whole thing. Not charging interest to people who stay in NZ makes sense, but it's meddling with the OE, which has been a great tradition long before they made us pay for university.

But we also have to face the fact that tertiary education has got way out of hand. You pretty much can't get a job serving at the checkout in a bookstore without a BA, and you can't babysit children without at least a degree in child psychology. Far be it from me (with nearly 15 years of tertiary education behind me) to criticise people who want to study a little, but it certainly doesn't do the economy any good to have people taken out for 3-5 of their most productive years so that they can study obscure poetry as a 'qualification' to operating a checkout till.

And I know you don't like economics, but cost is normally an efficient means of organising supply. I say 'normally', because in this case the cost has not been enough of a deterant as increasing numbers of people are signing up to take increasingly irrelevant courses, and taking on huge mortgages to do it.

Perhaps we should reduce the cost of economics papers so that people can see the folly of their ways...


richard said...

I'm not sure I agree with you about voting being an abdication of responsibility. That's probably cos I haven't thought about it enough. I figure that seeing as I am an investor in the NZ economy I should have some say in it. Actually, the more I think about that statement, the more I disagree with it... I shouldn't have a say in it because I invest in it...

The student loan system is in a right state due to it being constantly tinkered with. Granted that it is being slowly made more fair, but as someone who was at university and borrowing at its worst, I feel somewhat embittered about it all. I take responsibility for my choices but I figure that some of my choices were imposed. Ok, I could have chosen to not study, but that seems a bit silly.

Personally I consider it very important that NZers get out and about in the world. As a people who live a long way from anywhere we can become rather idealistic without seeing the greater context of international events. This is becoming less of an issue due to the information age but I still believe it to be important and while not a right, actively encouraged. However, there is this little niggle that suggests that perhaps the OE is the domain of the wealthier people... Perhaps I'm being a hypocrite because I'm aware that I have made my home here in oxford, and I am not planning on going back to NZ any time soon. I don't know whether or not kiwis abroad should be encouraged to go home but as you well know, the reason I live here has absolutely nothing to do with financial benefits.

I'm a believer in encouraging the arts and as an attender of obscure poetry readings you're treading a fine line there, mister. But I take your point about the escalation of tertiary study. I would rather that people took on apprenticeships to meet the chronic shortfall in builders, plumbers, electricians etc. Sometimes I wish I'd done something like that as I am useless with my hands.

Artists should be encouraged to carry on arting and for many of them they have to subsidise their occupation with working in whitcoulls. No, really they do.

I'm vaguely curious to know what courses at university are showing the greatest growth in patronage.