If John Key wants to demonstrate that economist Peter Harris is wrong when he says National's tax and spending promises don't add up, he would seem better advised to do so by releasing the numbers than by impugning Harris's credibility. Wouldn't that settle the argument?
Key told The Press that he couldn't reveal National's numbers: "It's a decision for the leader's office." In other words, a tactical decision to hold off the presentation of an alternative Budget for as long as possible. Until such time as National fronts with its numbers, it can hardly complain that others are unfairly speculating on them.
Key has issued a press release slating Harris's "mumbo jumbo" economics, but attacks the report around the fringes rather than addressing its key contentions. It's not very persuasive, and Harris also seemed to have the upper hand in today's discussion on Morning Report.
Harris claims in his report for the PSA, The Myth of the Exploding Public Service (here in Word format) that there is simply no way that National can provide substantial tax relief and honour its policy promises by taking the scythe to the public service. He lists some of National's spending promises and concludes:
The inescapable conclusion is that if tax cuts are to be financed from cuts in government spending, the cuts must inevitably go to the heart of the social service elements and impact on benefit rates (including NZ Superannuation and family income support), health and education.
On a similar theme, Vernon Small has an interesting column today which appears to benefit from some insight into Labour's focus group work on how much of a tax cut - when it is finally revealed - would actually turn minds:
It's a game you can play at work or at home. What would be a big enough tax break to make a difference? $20 a week? $50? $100?
About $50 seems to be the trigger for most people, according to Labour's qualitative research.
To give everyone that much would be hugely expensive.
What's more, the amount of cash National can put in the pockets of those who receive state income support now is likely to be very small.
National's finance spokesman, John Key, has indicated that any tax cut will be an offset for the Working for Families package. Those receiving, say, $80 a week from Working for Families may receive $50 under National and another $30 from a tax cut but no significant extra money.
There may even be some small losers from National's tax cut package.
When it finally comes clean, National will also need to explain a higher debt track, a lower provision for future new spending and cuts in the public sector necessary to help pay for the tax cuts.
The last of those – ironically, the one on which the public seems to need the least convincing – may be the hardest to justify.
This would seem to be a highly relevant area of inquiry - and rather more so than the pointless mud-slinging in Parliament yesterday. Labour should stop trying to bait Nick Smith and he, in return, would be well advised to refrain from shooting back with claims - regarding "Lianne Dalziel's drunken spell in Hanmer Springs" - that appear to be completely false. Stop it. Just stop it.
Elsewhere, RealClimate (a site run by actual climate scientists) takes on the Wall Street Journal over the paper's claims that scientific evidence for climate change "looks weaker all the time". It's a comprehensive counterblast that gathers much of the relevant evidence and addresses some of the more common canards. Perhaps Don Brash could read it …
Great Daily Show video (10MB QuickTime) on recent press conference action, including Bush on Europe.
Iraq's Justice Minister accuses the US of trying to hinder the investigation into Saddam and says "it seems there are lots of secrets they want to hide." No. Really?
In Iraq, on the other hand, hostility toward America is practically the only thing that all insurgents agree on—foreign infiltrators and native recruits alike. And jihadists in Iraq are getting direct, on-the-job training in a real-life insurgency, with hands-on experience in bombing, sniping and all the skills of urban warfare, unlike the essentially artificial training that was given at Al Qaeda's rural Afghan camps.
One of the paper's main points is that America's Iraqi troubles will not end with the insurgency. In effect, Iraq is producing a new corps of master terrorists with an incandescent hatred for the United States—the "class of '05 problem," as it's called in the shorthand of CIA analysts. This war is proving to be longer and nastier than almost anyone expected. One day, its results may be felt closer to home.
Raed notes that not only are IED attacks on US forces in Iraq reaching unprecedented levels, the devices being used are becoming more sophisticated.
And Riverbend has an update on life outside the Green Zone.