Another obvious lie too many National supporters believe is that Labour are bad for employment (because they raise the minimum wage too fast), and National have “solved unemployment” (because they’ve made it harder to maintain benefits):
Now, it is true that Labour raise the minimum wage much faster, and that National cut welfare (in a recession!). But the unemployment rates have been more like the other way around,* and anyone suggesting National are better than Labour at keeping unemployment down is either believing or promoting a lie.
Actually, it’s a couple of lies… but they’re both obviously bollocks to anyone who’s spent five minutes looking into them:
“Raisng the minimum wage reduces jobs”
As usual, Gordon Campbell says it best:
If, as Key claims, Treasury has done research that shows major job losses would result from gradual increases in the minimum wage, then this amazing information would be world news – because the vast weight of academic research around the world ever since the groundbreaking David Card/Alan Krueger work in the US fast food industry 20 years ago, is that it would do no such thing.
“National have solved unemployment by making it harder to get the benefit”
I’ve covered this before, and so have many others. Basically, kicking people off the dole (or DPB/invalid’s/sickness benefit) doesn’t magically put them into jobs; it just increases the number of people lacking either work or welfare (which has hit a record 110,000 since National’s bennie-bashing “reforms”). Creating a desperate unemployed person doesn’t create a job for them to go into.
This confusion arises from a basic failure to understand the difference between individual problems/solutions and socio-economic problems/solutions, as sociologist C. Wright Mills pointed out 55 years ago:
* It started to get bad under the Lange (& Douglas) Labour government, which was actually more like a Bolger/Key National government than a Labour one. Of course, just like with debt, things are more complicated than one graph could show.
PS: Graph and truncated y-axis from tradingeconomics.com; annotations mine.
Grant writes off Max Rashbooke’s book, and indeed all concern about inequality, as “the zero-sum fallacy; the idea that there is a set amount of cash in the economy.”
This is one of the worst straw man attacks I’ve seen in a while.
In fact, Rashbrooke et al understand better than our government that money is a relative measure, only meaningful insofar as it represents access to wealth/resources. It doesn’t matter how much total cash there is in the economy… what matters is:
a) how much resources/wealth there are in the economy, because that’s what determines how big the pie is.
b) how much cash you have in relation to others, because that’s what determines how big or small your slice of the pie is.
Total cash doesn’t affect the pie at all (if it did, Zimbabwe would be the richest country in the world).
Total cash and total resources are not ‘zero-sum’ phenomena. But percentage of access to cash and resources is (that’s the whole point of a percentage – it always sums to 100).
Rashbrooke (and, like, actual evidence and stuff) are concerned with inequality because when one person’s percentage of cash goes up, someone else’s ability to access available resources necessarily decreases. And when that’s too unequal (even when the pie’s huge) it causes numerous health and social problems across the whole society.
Grant is the one guilty of a fallacy: the idea that money is an absolute, not just a relative measure; so if there’s more total money in an economy, that automatically means there’s more wealth/resources available to people. This is more than just a fallacy, it’s a properly religious phenomenon – idolisation of money.
Post-script – extra responses to a few of Grant’s stupidest comments
“There’s no evidence that rising social and health problems are a result of income disparities.”
I’m actually astonished to see this much wilful blindness, even in corporate media. Huge amounts of research – very widely available – offer compelling evidence that inequality causes many social/health problems – from murder to community breakdown to high teen pregnancy rates. A journalist doing their job would acknowledge this evidence even if they disagree with its analysis. Grant doesn’t indicate whether he disagrees, whether he’s ignoring it, or whether he doesn’t know it exists … he simply says there’s “no evidence.”
The fact that the next sentence peddles an evidence-free stereotype (“Poor people get diabetes because they eat junk food, not because Sir Peter Jackson is rich.”) is the icing on the bullshit cake.
“Key to the inequality fantasy is that New Zealand is a neo-liberal rich-man’s paradise but the facts do not support this. Bill English said… [bla bla bla] Half the population are net beneficiaries.”
He goes on to uncritically parrot Bill English’s dishonest press release that I addressed a couple of blogs ago. If Grant was doing his job as a journalist and applying some critical thinking, he’d realise English’s figures show the opposite of what he claims.
Grant thinks workers should be grateful for being “net beneficiaries” of state assistance… grateful for a situation where their subhuman wages mean they don’t contribute much to the tax coffers, let alone to their own families, and Working for Families subsidises their employers to keep paying these sub-human wages. How much more grateful should the rich be for being “net beneficiaries” of a system that facilitates and supports such grossly unequal wealth?
“Economic growth is driven by innovative entrepreneurs adding to the total economy. They sometimes become rich by retaining some of the extra wealth they created.”
I don’t even know where to start with this statement, except to note that it’s pure ideology. He equates economic growth with ‘wealth,’ ignoring the fact that economic (GDP) growth doesn’t just include productive, wealth-producing activities, but destructive ones like crime, pollution and credit card debt. And he simplistically suggests ‘wealth’ is created by “innovative entrepreneurs,” rather than by the contributions of all workers; those who’re given the opportunity to utilise their creative/innovative skills, and those who aren’t.
The next sentence, where he uses a doctor as his archetypical example of a rich wealth-creating entrepreneur, reveals his ideological assumption that the rich become rich by doing good for the world. A better example of the very highest income earners would be a currency trader who makes much more than a doctor by producing nothing, just manipulating pieces of paper and numbers on computer screens.
Later in the article he again waxes lyrical about how much wealth the rich create, and how grateful we should be for their work. He also mentions how hard-working they are – predictably failing to provide any statistics linking hard work to high income. In fact, income and wealth distributions are way out of proportion to how hard people work… (unless the richest 1% percent work 10-16 times as hard as the average NZer).
“Poverty has many causes, welfare dependency amongst them, but blaming the hard-working for the failings of the indigent is not a solution.”
Grant is doing even worse – blaming the hard-working poor (like people working two jobs cleaning toilets on minimum wage to feed their families) for their own poverty. Despicable.
(This is part two of a two-part series on the current “welfare reform” policy – part one is here)
I have a friend who says that Paula Bennett‘s welfare policy is fine, and it’s not beneficiary-bashing, because if you (only) look at the individual policies, they’re not really as bad as they first appear; some of them are quite reasonable and even potentially helpful.
I think this is quite generous. There may be things that can be done on an individual level to help beneficiaries and reduce their reliance on welfare, but these aren’t constructive or intelligent measures; I take issue with how hypocritical, worryingly controlling, contrived and just plain stupid they are, the effects on children in poverty, and the fact that overall they add up to welfare cuts.
But these specific policy effects are only part of the picture of welfare reform. We need to look at the entirety of what is being communicated if we want to understand “welfare reform” and its relationship to the phenomenon of “benny-bashing”.
The essential message of “welfare reform” is: The problem is with beneficiaries themselves. If someone can’t get a job it’s because they don’t have the right skills or attributes, not because there aren’t enough jobs to go around; if they’re not in paid work on top of raising a family and running a home, they’re leeching off the system, not making a choice mothers with partners are allowed to make; and if they don’t want to do a certain job it’s because they don’t have the right attitude, not because that job is dehumanising or abusive.
Of course, this message is a lot more subtle than the populist sentiments simmering just beneath the surface of the rich, the working poor and anyone who hasn’t had to rely on welfare themselves. Rather than saying beneficiaries are lazy, incompetent, drug-addicted, child-abusive, over-breeding criminals who think the government owes them a living, Bennett talks of an “investment approach” to welfare and unveils special new rules for beneficiaries only, to make sure they’re not taking drugs, opting out of optional early childhood education, having any more children, or refusing any job offer whatsoever.
It is indeed true that the actual policies are slightly gentler than the shriekings of talkback radio and internet comments. But the policy announcements still have the effect of dog-whistling support for these populist sentiments. In fact, she’ll often back down from earlier extreme statements; a shrewd strategy that allows her to satisfy our benny-bashing instincts, but then also satisfy our more reasonable natures that the policy isn’t going to be quite so harsh as it seemed.
So it’s clever politics, in that it allows National to affirm its identity as smart and careful with money, and tough but fair when it comes to the dole-bludging strawmen who are the main target of New Zealand’s two minutes’ hate.
Either way, it’s still repeating the essential message that it’s the beneficiaries who have the problem. But this is simply insufficient to explain why four years ago unemployment was the lowest in decades, and now it’s rapidly approaching 80s and 90s highs.
Sociologist C. Wright Mills used high unemployment rates as an example of something that cannot be properly understood or solved on a purely individual level; instead a “sociological imagination” is needed to connect personal problems with public issues.
The most obvious “public issue” at play here is the global financial crisis and recession. Our worst periods of unemployment since at least the 80s have all followed periods of negative economic growth; compare this with this.
Paula Bennett actually admitted in April that there simply aren’t enough jobs in the current economic climate. Bill English certainly knows this, and is trying to get us back to economic growth by following the dubious neo-liberal formula.
Of course, this will only be a temporary solution until the next recession brings another wave of unemployment. A more long-term solution would be to address the economic system itself; to change the way the economy operates so that it doesn’t rely on periodic bouts of recession and unemployment. As Mills put it; “In so far as an economy is so arranged that slumps occur, the problem of unemployment becomes incapable of personal solution.”
Unfortunately, this government is not about to challenge the basic shape of the capitalist system, or even its recent neo-liberal form. In fact, the current National party are the ideological progeny of the neo-liberals who argued in the 80s and 90s that unemployment is good, because it keeps wages low, which is great for business. They might not make such bold statements nowadays, but they still believe that an underpaid and desperate workforce is what we need to bring about the utopia of economic growth.
To really solve unemployment would require the government to re-think their entire philosophy that says that unbridled capitalism is our lord and saviour – not the cause of problems like unemployment.
So they do what dominant groups have done throughout history when they don’t want to address societal issues in a way that might challenge their way of running things… They scapegoat marginal individuals for the problems of the whole society, and consolidate power by uniting the majority against these scapegoats; in this case beneficiaries.
It makes perfect sense why they’d do this; it’s the best way for National to gain politically out of the situation, even if nobody else does. But with rising unemployment, record inequality and obscene child poverty, blaming and punishing the victims is not the kind of welfare “reform” we need right now.
Since I wrote my last blog about homosexuality, I noticed that Colin Craig has been debating in the Waikato Times. He claims to have found a lot of scientific research proving his contention that “adopting a gay lifestyle is a choice”.
What he says makes for an interesting follow-up to my blog. The interesting thing is that Craig’s research doesn’t really give any evidence whatsoever that homosexuality is a choice (apart from the title of one of the books). The only way it could appear this way is if you’re viewing it through the reductive individualistic either/or lens that assumes if something isn’t completely predestined by your genes, it must be a free choice.
In fact, Craig’s research, even in his own words, does a remarkably good job of backing up what I said in my blog:
“[homosexuality is] far more complicated than either being a slave to some mysterious ‘gay gene’ or waking up one day and ‘deciding to be gay’ … While there may be some biological aspects and some choice aspects to sexuality … our sexuality is [also] to a large extent socially constructed”.
(Actually, and ironically, after reading Craig’s research I realised I was being overly generous to the choice aspects and not generous enough to the biological aspects.)
So here’s what Colin Craig has to say about sexual orientation research (grammatical errors and condescending tone quoted as written):
For a start I highly recommend looking at the work of the Human Genome Project.
Frankly these are some of the best minds when it comes to genetic makeup and it’s influences. They looked specifically at genetics and causality. Dr Collins the head of the project team summarises by saying ‘‘.. sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations’’.
As well here are some authors/researchers that have written about this issue. Please note that I am only quoting authors who are either Gay or bisexual themselves (except perhaps for Greenberg who describes himself as a ‘‘social liberal”). It cannot therefore be claimed that they have any bias against gay people in what they have said. My best suggestion for those interested is to try and get these books through your local library.
Kirk and Madsen. (After the Ball [Book]) .. ‘‘..sexual orientation, for most humans, seems to be a product of a complex interaction between innate pre-dispositions and environmental factors during childhood and early adolescence.’’ Dr j de Cecco. If you seduce a straight person can you make then Gay? [Book]) ‘‘ ..scientific conclusion shows that life-long, exclusive homosexuality, as articulated by gay rhetoric, is more a statement about the culture in which it occurs than the essence of homosexuality.’’
Dr. V Williams (Queer by choice [Book]) ‘‘ my conclusions question some of the fundamental basis upon which the gay and lesbian rights movement has been built’’.
Jennie Ruby (Off our Backs [Book]) ‘‘.. I don’t think lesbians are born .. I think they are made’’.
Dr Golomok/Dr Tasker (Do parents influence the Sexual Orientation of their children?
Findings from a longitudinal study of Lesbian Families. [Research study: Developmental Pyschology 1999v.32] ) Outcomes: 15% of children in Lesbian families went on to have same sex relationships compared to 0% from heterosexual families.
Jan Clausen (Apples and Oranges [Book]) ‘‘ What has got to stop is the rigging of history to make the ‘‘either/or’’ look permanent and universal’’.
Dr D Greenberg (The construction of Homosexuality [Book/Research]). Comment by Chicago University: ‘‘The idea of static homosexual orientation or essence simply does not hold up against the huge variety of homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual patterns.’’
In any case, this response points out that Craig’s contribution is “not only wrong, but irrelevant”. Even if Craig is right about the science behind homosexuality, it’s still a completely separate matter to the “moral and ethical questions” of whether there is anything wrong with homosexuality, or whether gay marriage should be legalised.
Crackdown on Golden Mile (Blair Ensor and Jody O’Callaghan, 23/08/2012)
A third of Wellington’s crime takes place along the “Golden Mile” [between Parliament and Courtenay Place] … Last year 5753 reported offences were in the Golden Mile hot spot, out of 16,627 across the city.
Police revealed the figures yesterday as they announced a multi-agency crime-fighting strategy … [of] police taking control of Wellington City Council’s network of CCTV cameras, more officers on the beat, a focus on the “science of crime”, and working with other city agencies.
The initiative is part of the police’s new Prevention First model, which aims to reduce crime by 13 per cent by 2015.
Like their Christchurch counterparts a week ago, the Wellington police and media have been talking about something of which they’re profoundly ignorant – criminology.
The police officers who walk up the hill from the Golden Mile to the university to study their optional police criminology courses should* be learning on the first day that “reported crime” and police crime statistics are a wildly unreliable measure of real criminal activity. When the vast majority of crime is never reported, investigated or prosecuted, police crime figures will inevitably say far more about where police target than about where crime happens.
(* I say “should”. Actually, I know a guy who used to tutor the police students, and a disappointingly high proportion would argue in their essays that police statistics are in fact a reliable measure of crime, even though all research says the opposite.)
If they kept paying attention after that, they might learn that the most likely type of crime to never be apprehended is white collar crime, the crime of the rich and powerful, which by many accounts is a far, far bigger problem than blue collar crime. However, only a tiny fraction of law enforcement and penal attention is paid to it.
They might go on to learn that the most important factor determining whether we’ll have safer communities or anti-social behaviour isn’t what the police do or don’t do… far more important are wider socio-economic factors happening at the top of the cliff, regardless of what happens at the bottom. If they want to focus on “Prevention First”, they might realise that the best way for a society to reduce crime by 13% is to reduce economic inequality by the same amount.
All of which leads me to believe that if police really were taking the “science of crime” seriously, when they came back down the hill from the university, a lot more of them would stop at The Terrace and Parliament than at Courtenay Place.
[Edit: My friend who tutored the police students told me of a sad development that renders the premise of this blog obsolete, but its point unfortunately all the more relevant: “The VPEP contract was not renewed at the beginning of the year, so the police no longer get the opportunity to learn this stuff”]