Are We All Beneficiaries Now?

I never thought I’d link to a post by Helen Kelly over at The Standard. But her post “We Are All Beneficiaries Now” perfectly highlights what I was talking about the other day. Farmers are the most coddled special interest group in the country, particularly under National governments which put a statistically disproportionate number of farmers into positions of power.

Where I differ from Helen Kelly is that I don’t agree with farmers getting social protection. It is patently absurd for a group who overwhelmingly reject the idea of a welfare safety net to be the beneficiary of a “no questions asked”, “no work seminar attendance necessary” handout after central government declares a “drought”.

When is the drought announcement coming for the construction sector, which despite dreams of the Christchurch rebuild and a housing supply problem, is still 20% off its peak and consents at 50% of their boom level, in order to enable the payments from “Construction Support Trusts” and special treatment from Inland Revenue to be triggered?

Oh wait, I forgot, because of the way the construction industry is structured through contractor/sub-contractor relationships, every small business in the construction sector thinks that they are the big man. When progress payments are on time they’ve got the ute, the jet ski and even a cheeky $1000 for the missus to go to the shopping mall. Big business has effectively conned sub-contractors into thinking that they are businessmen just like them.

What this does is make organising the construction sector in the manner the farming sector is organised very difficult. Few sub-contractors realise how they are at a persistent disadvantage due to asymmetric information, lack of bargaining power and rampant commercial illiteracy.

If one business sector can’t get handouts, none of them should. Sadly, special interest groups can negotiate very effectively on behalf of their industry. If only the construction sector (my favourite industry if that isn’t already clear by now) realised the benefits of sub-contractors organising.

I have a project idea in mind that would involve writing small guides for subbies with their heads screwed on who want to figure out how to put themselves in a position to get screwed by main contractors less often. A “Construction Contractors Union” of sorts. I used to think union was a dirty word – but the truth is that when we are all beneficiaries, it is commercial suicide to not “get in on the game” of painting your special interest group as deserving of handouts.

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