On poverty, parenting, and Paula

Of course it would be Paula Bennett, the government’s most infamous ladder-retracting Minister, getting headlines about irresponsible parenting being the real cause of children going to school with no lunches.

“[Voting down the “Feed the Kids” Bill] is absolutely is the right thing to do. We provide breakfast into any school that wants it and this is being taken up which is great, but we believe in parental responsibility and I stand by the decision we made,” Bennett says.

This despite OECD figures showing that 17% of respondents report that they do not have money to buy sufficient food.

The average household income in 2014 was $42,600. And remember the statisticians’ (or rather, politicians’) trick: that’s a mean average. It gets dragged up by all those comfortable MP pay raises and CEOs on millions of dollars per year.

The average income for the bottom 10% of households? $13,200. There’s no hiding from reality: for many people, there simply isn’t enough money to cover expenses.

But the National Party has always hid behind a faux moral outrage on child poverty: “Parental responsibility!” they cry. “Make better choices!” they plead. “Stop breeding for a business!” they sneer. As though even Paula Bennett – or John Key, whose state house upbringing is so often used to lend him “just like normal people!” cred – have any understanding of what it’s like struggling to make ends meet in a post-GFC world.

To the bulk of people – comfortably well-off people who like to consider themselves to be the real battlers, but don’t really appreciate how little some people are “getting by” on – those seem like fair comments. After all, they think (and I could think too, given a completely different set of values) I’m not that wealthy; I have to make budgeting decisions sometimes; I could certainly afford to spend less on luxuries. Therefore, all those people who are complaining must just be choosing the wrong things!

Yet, the average income for the bottom 10% of households is $13,200. Even the mean household income – that one dragged upwards by the cushy pay rises of senior managers – is only $42,600. That’s not a lot to pay the rent, and the bills, and cover transport, and put food on the table.

It’s often very difficult to see just how much our own lives aren’t really “normal” or representative of the lives of others.

I don’t know what the answer is to getting people to understand that. So for now I’ll settle for calling out Paula Bennett and her government’s rhetoric as heartless bullshit, designed to dehumanize and vilify poor people so no one asks questions about why we’re pursuing nasty and ultimately-disastrous policies to benefit the people at the top and grind the people at the bottom into the dirt.

(Repost) The end of the inequality debate?

Originally posted at On The Left.

Inequality has become a central political issue in New Zealand and around the world. But there’s always been some argument, from the right, that inequality just happens, or provides an incentive for people to pull themselves up with their own bootstraps.

Now, a new OECD report is fairly straightforward about the issue:

New OECD research shows that when income inequality rises, economic growth falls. One reason is that poorer members of society are less able to invest in their education. Tackling inequality can make our societies fairer and our economies stronger.

New Zealand gets a specific mention:

Figure 2 shows by how much the GDP growth rate would have increased or decreased over the period 1990-2010 had inequality not changed between 1985 and 2005 (The most recent inequality trends since then are not taken into account as they affect future growth patterns).

Rising inequality is estimated to have knocked more than 10 percentage points off growth in Mexico and New Zealand…

As Grant Robertson put it on Morning Report, “This isn’t the Socialist International. This is the OECD – the conductor of the Trickle-Down Economics Choir – saying that the show’s over.”

So you might think that’s the end of it – surely this is an unequivocal explosion of the trickle-down economics theory, and we can all turn to finding actual solutions to reverse inequality and the real harm it causes in people’s lives.

But unfortunately, our Minister of Finance has taken the John Key line of saying he doesn’t accept the findings of the report. It’s one of the great strategies of this government, acting like there’s no such thing as objective fact and the only thing that matters is how you frame something.

We’re not going to see any kind of shift in their behaviour or policies (though I’m sure we’ll definitely hear them talk about inequality more, as we did in the lead-up to the election.) But what this report gives us is another tool to use against the National/ACT narrative – that the right are pro-growth, that tax cuts and penny-pinching will lead to prosperity, that there’s no alternative to their mean-spirited policies.