There's a phenomenon in psychology called the "cognitive miser", which tells us that our brains crave simplicity and shortcuts. A lot of the decisions made in politics play to these instincts. We've seen it in successive governments underfunding our health, education and housing systems for the sugar high and short-term poll bump of trickle-up tax cuts.
We see it play out in the – intentional or not – drafting of news headlines. In a busy world, those short sentences become a proxy; a few words become the sum total of a person, their position and their politics. Studies have shown that approximately 60 per cent of social media users are comfortable sharing articles they haven't actually opened, let alone read.
It makes sense. We're overworked, overtired and drowning in information exposure. Don't hate the player, hate the game. What about changing the game?
Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week. I reflected on my 2017 maiden speech, where a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 23-year-old lamented the mental health crisis, but more particularly, our inability to put our finger on some of the more egregious systemic drivers of it; loneliness, insecurity of housing, employment and one's future. I referred to this old joke: There's a dog on the riverbank who sees a fish and asks, "How's the water?" To which the fish replies, "What water?"
The most fundamental realities of our lives can be hard to see, which makes them even harder to talk about. That makes them hard to challenge and even more difficult to comprehend as the consequences of decisions made by others. Poverty, homelessness and the climate crisis are not inevitabilities. It is within our power to change the rules that produce those outcomes.
In 2018, the Government's Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry, He Ara Oranga, confirmed the premise of this argument. Clearly, we need more front-line mental health support, but we're not going to address the growing pipeline of issues unless we address security and stability of incomes, housing and community connection. No amount of talking is going to solve the issue of people living below the breadline. A massage won't undo a deeply unsustainable 80-hour work week. Meditation and mindfulness won't secure your tenancy.
That's where things get difficult and frankly, political. A crisis in slow motion. Don't hate the player, hate the game.
This is why I'm so angry at the attempts to wedge oversimplified mental ill-health narratives into the story that we're somehow in dire need of a return to the business-as-usual, pre-pandemic way of life. These attempts have been so dogged that the Mental Health Foundation was driven to release a statement about the lack of truth and substance to them. They've even been peddled, shamelessly, by the Leader of the Opposition.
But those shilling these warped and disingenuous arguments got their wish. On Monday, the Government announced the beginning of the end in their commitment to the elimination strategy. Delta had officially shifted from an immediate emergency to one "playing out in slow motion, with less bang, more data and trends, out-of-sight-out-of-mind, impacting particularly those without platform or power". Official data shows that more than 80 per cent of cases are Māori and Pasifika, the same demographics that medical professionals have critiqued the Government's response for and to.
Supporters argued that "the economy" couldn't sustain elimination anymore. I ask those people to reflect on exactly what they think the economy is.
The economy is all of us and the things we produce. It's the stuff we exchange. While Members of Parliament point to GDP figures as the source of truth, I ask they reflect on the words of the economist who invented the measure, Simon Kuznets. He warned of GDP's shortcomings in measuring "welfare", or, the distribution, value and incalculable costs of those transactions.
A strong public health response to anything – Covid, climate, housing, mental health, drugs – requires a strong, equitable economic response to ensure everyone has what they need to stay the course.
The Government's endorsement of unconventional monetary policy and a lack of intervention in fiscal policy has seen house prices supercharged under Covid to more than $1 million average across the entire country. There are hundreds of thousands of dollars in un-earned capital gain on every single individual property that could have paid for "staying the course" through a tax on those gains.
Or, we could reflect on the Pandora Papers. They confirmed what we already know, and have known since at least 2016's Panama Papers. Aotearoa New Zealand is treated, internationally, as a tax haven for the rich and powerful.
At the end of last year, as we debated incremental changes to the far-reaches of our tax system, then-National Party spokesperson on finance, Andrew Bayley, said the quiet part out loud: "There is such a thing as legitimate tax avoidance." He was speaking to how we create rules that enable powerful and wealthy people to shirt their resources around into places and spaces that mean they don't end up contributing to the society that they extracted that wealth from.
Don't hate the player, hate the game. We don't live in a game of monopoly. We can and should change the rules when they don't work for the majority of us.
• Chlöe Swarbrick, Green Party, is the MP for Auckland Central