Monday, November 22, 2010

Lindsay Mitchell: The Spirit Level comes to NZ

The New Zealand Herald reports NZ academics and analysts broadly supported the Spirit Level thesis that,

"The greater the gap between rich and poor, the more likely people will grow up a drug user, a criminal, less educated, obese, pregnant while a teenager, even less trusting of others."
The New Zealand poor comprise non-wealthy welfare recipients and non-wealthy workers. The problems that are attributed to wealth inequality are more prevalent among beneficiaries than among the working poor. That is amply illustrated by the difference in the incidence of these problems (bar obesity which has its roots in traditional diet/lifestyle change) between Maori and Pacific people. Teenage pregnancies, criminality, and substance abuse are more prevalent among Maori. Maori are far more likely to be on benefits than Pacific people.

What is even more striking is that Asians are the least wealthy group yet, thus far, do not under-achieve, abuse drugs or offend in disproportionate rates. Their various cultures are not beset with social problems. I don't suppose any academic raised these flies in the ointment.

The two things that work against the problems identified are strong families and work. Both are eroded by unconditional welfare. Not by income inequality.


Anonymous said...

I agree with the basic thesis of the Spirit level but not necessarily how it is interpreted. If we distinguish between the deserving beneficiary and the free loader then the free loader should be considered as crime. Just because we can't trace who gained from whom, it is still crime.

Anonymous said...

Being poor does not have to lead to crime. From what I have read many people were poor in the 1930's Great Depression and by and large the crime level did not escalate out of control.

Surely it is an ethical or moral set of values residing within us which govern our behaviour - what my Catholic teachers called
"an informed conscience." While we may stumble, while we may fail on occasions we nevertheless hold fast to principles of right and wrong. I suggest that it is this lack of moral training or a rejection of it which is the best indicator of whether or not a poor person (or any other person) will become a criminal.

If you accept the validity of this point of view then this raises questions about the moral education of children.

Another factor to consider: While travelling through a rural part of the U.K. with a group we were told by our guide that the crime rate was very low in that part of the country.
The reason: People knew each other and young people knew that they would bring shame on their family if they were convicted of a criminal offence. Ironically, in this country, we suppress the names of young criminals to "protect" them - or in other words we do not allow the follow up and deserved stigma of name publication to take place. (I personally would recommend name suppression for the first offence but not for further offences.)