Winston Peters suspects a dark plot is afoot in Auckland with the connivance of the National Government to destroy his SuperGold card. I hope he is right.
Cardholders were told this week that from July 1 they will need to buy a new gold version of Auckland Transport's card for $10 and put a minimum of $5 credit on it, presumably in case they forget to check out when they have had a ride on buses, trains or ferries for nothing. So initially at least, nothing will change, except national superannuitants will have to fork out $15 which Grey Power calls "cruel".
But there was a line in the Budget that reinforced Winston's suspicion. Bill English announced, "$41 million of additional funding to provide certainty for more than 670,000 cardholders across New Zealand". In the small print this is a freeze of $10,224 every year for the next four years as ever more of the baby boom reach 65.
When the squeeze comes, a local body - a non-elected one at that - will find it easier than a government to trim this benefit few of us need and none of us deserve.
I say "us" because in six months I will qualify for the damned thing. Hence I now prefer the term "national superannuitants" to "pensioners", though since I hope to continue earning a living for a good few years yet, I don't think I should get the pension either. The World Health Organisation noted this week that life expectancy has risen by five years in a remarkably short time, well within the period since we last set the superannuation age.
I think 70 would be about right, if we have to have a fixed age. Even better would be to make it available from age 60 so long as you didn't have an equivalent income from any other source. Some people need it long before 65 but a rapidly increasing number are choosing to work well past that age. They should not be double-dipping.
I am immensely proud of the changes my generation has made to the New Zealand economy. When you look around the world now it is hard to find any developed country that is doing as well. Many of them are still trying to recover from the global crisis nearly eight years ago. After all this time they are struggling to regain a healthy growth rate having taken an overdose of the Keynesian cure for depression.
They have been printing so much money to keep themselves afloat they have become dependent on it. Each time their central bank sees a glimmer of returning growth and tries to wean them off the drug, the growth falters and they are quickly put back on the pump. It's taking so long that I can't help but wonder, would they be in better shape by now if they had taken the hit from Wall St and let their economies recover normally?
That is more or less what we did when we elected our first baby-boom government. It's Cabinet were protesters of the 1960s, liberals who had been waiting to change the world. They came to power after defeating a stubborn old tusker of the wartime generation who even in defeat tried to tell them what to do. They seized the moment.
They read their Treasury briefings, previously a state secret, and made them public. Reading them told us why the economy had been sick for so long. We had to repudiate something much more important than nuclear ships and Springbok tours, the whole fortress economy had to go and, with it, the "universal" benefits of the welfare state.
Universal family benefits were replaced with means tests for need. The young took the hit but the wartime generation dug in against a surcharge on superannuation claimants with private means. They had a champion in Winston, the baby boom's in-house contrarian, and got a reprieve. But they're almost gone now.
The baby boom began to collect superannuation five years ago. I'm immensely proud of the economy we have made but it has been rough on the generation coming after us. They have graduated with student loans to pay back, jobs are harder to get and not as secure as ours were, now they face rents and house prices fuelled both by the baby boom's property investments and its failure to include an effective capital gains tax in its economic reforms.
To see today's pensioners go to a Rolling Stones concert. They may not look as fit as the band but nor do they look like old folk who would be trapped at home if they didn't have a free pass. On weekend ferries to Waiheke they joke about Winston's card and wonder how long it can last.