Monday, March 11, 2013

Lindsay Mitchell: Who's 'beneficiary bashing'?


It seems to me the phrase 'beneficiary bashing' was coined in the 1990s and originally used to describe Ruth Richardson's benefit cuts. For some time I've been reflecting that the Left are now very quick to cry beneficiary bashing whenever  government attempts to reform welfare IN ANY WAY. But this National government has never cut benefit payments. In fact they've introduced more protection for benefit levels through indexing.  National hasn't reduced the incomes of beneficiaries.

Policies of (usually) the political Left though, like tobacco and alcohol taxes, supposed environmentally-friendly fuel and energy taxes, a proposed fat tax, or Labour's capital gains tax, actually do or will hurt the lowest income people the most. Does anybody cry 'beneficiary basher' when Tariana Turia ratchets up the price of a cigarette yet again? Despite Maori women being the most prolific users of welfare and the biggest users of tobacco?

I was just reading a paper that shows  spending on alcohol and tobacco accounts for 10.7 percent of the incomes of those in the lowest quintile in the UK. The same paper shows how government interference in the housing market - and the UK has the same affordability problem as NZ - leads to high rents, again disproportionately hurting the working poor and beneficiaries. Do environmentalists seeking to prevent urban sprawl get called beneficiary bashers? Do climate change activists who campaigned for the ETS get called beneficiary bashers?

But offer free long-acting contraception to a beneficiary sole parent and her teenage daughter and you are not only a basher but a eugenicist! Everything aimed at trying to better the material and social lot of people on welfare and their children - work obligations for those able, short-term retention of benefit while transitioning into work, requirement to partake of child health and educational facilities, income management to ensure essentials get paid for - are all labelled punitive and beneficiary bashing.

Perhaps we should turn the term on the Left at every occasion they suggest making life financially tougher for those on low incomes, be they beneficiaries or workers (or both). Even BUY NZ could be construed as a beneficiary bashing campaign on the premise most cannot afford such indulgent nationalism. It'd be drawing a longish bow but isn't that what the Greens, Mana and Labour do every time they invoke the mantra?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think that the article is well written and considered. It is also quite accurate.
When a society grows up enough to tell the ignorant, uncultured, ill educated and useless that they will not breed without unpleasant consequences, we will continue to bear the burden of their uncaring attitude to everything around them. This will not happen whilst we continue to support a system that permits idiots though persuasive to enter politics without any meaningful qualifications for the job they have claimed they are capable of doing.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, as it says in the Bible, 'the poor will always be with us'. Even if today we took the world's wealth and divided it equally between all citizens the very fact that all individuals have been endowed differently by nature means that some will make better use of the resources than others. Within one time cycle, there will be growing inequality, as inevitably some 'do better than others' with what they have been given. As the ability to use the resources more productively is strongly correlated with the comparative advantages conferred by nature (not the artificial wealth reallocation), 'equality' will only ever be temporary. One can try to maintain equality by taxing the advantaged to stop them from utilising their greater talents, but this simply sentences society as a whole to be less well off in total as there are no surpluses generated from the more productive to be redistributed to the less productive.

Nature has a way of dealing with this 'problem' - it is the 'survival of the fittest'. If the less capable cannot survive by their on efforts, they cease to exist.

Why then might we expect the more capable to share their resources to 'save' the 'less capable' from their natural fate? The logical response is that such activity only makes sense if the 'saving' action generates a long-run benefit in excess of the cost. 'Saving the poor' by giving them aid serves only to prolong the time it takes for 'nature to take its course'. Only if the 'aid' can actually reverse the natural disadvantage that gives rise to the growing gap between the 'haves' and the 'have nots' will there be a net benefit in the long run. Anything else is simply an 'indulgence' that benefits the donor rather than the recipient. The recipient may survive, but in an 'artificial' state that relies on continual injection of 'subsidies' - rather like rare animal species preserved in zoos and other such 'sanctuaries'.

So is welfare really about 'saving the poor from themselves' by eliminating natural disadvantages (many of which cannot be altered as they are actually intractible)? Or is it more abput more about allowing the 'saviours' to 'feel good' about having preserved a sample of the endangered species for some other purpose?

The moral of the story is that nature is cruel. Compassion is not a 'natural' state but a 'social' one. Engaging in compassionate actions risks pitting the benefactor in an impossible unwinnable competition with nature. If the requisite change is not possible, some might say it is better not to start.

Anonymous said...

I'm always mystified by statistics telling us that a disproportionate percentage of solo mothers are Maori. I wonder if an historian could tell us whether the pre-European Maori people had a system of marriage in their culture? Could we be imposing our cultural mores on a group that actually had no culture of marriage? And if that's a fact, could we be told about the domestic life of Maori families? I do know that the grandparents are very important in Maoridom, but if that's a fact of cultural history, it would seem to imply that Maori people did have some form of marriage or commitment. Or could it be that children were raised by the tribe as a whole, and not by individuals, and that the grandparent system was simply a notional concept used in post-European times?