Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Other Inconvenient Truth

When I was a member of Victoria University’s Academic Board, I had the particular experience of sitting next to Religious Studies Professor Paul Morris at Board meetings. He had the very typically academic capacity to coherently use such words as “exegetic”, “detraditionalisation”, and spoke of “ethical moods”. He had the admirable scholastic ability to talk at length on any subject, and make simple topics sound very complex indeed. He would lean forward and gesticulate, as if making a very profound statement, and then say: “On the other hand…”, and completely contradict himself. Academics adored him for his little knowing smirks, at weighty analyses without conclusions, to assure them that if they had followed his unnecessarily verbose and complex reasoning, they too were worthy. In short, he was a pain in the bloody arse.

Morris has since graduated to becoming the prototypical ring-in on ethical and religious issues. Hence, when the Labour Party needed somebody to lecture them on the Exclusive Brethren at their conference, they called in Professor Morris. Morris gave them what they wanted: the Exclusive Brethren are evil, they do strange things, and according to Morris, they aren’t even Christians. Christians, the learned Morris believes, are closely attuned to Socialism.

Paul Morris offers his opinion on everything, whether invited or not. That celebrated bastion of intellectual credibility, the Marsden Fund, paid Morris a very healthy sum so that the Religious Studies specialist could write a very esteemed work on the New Right in New Zealand from 1984-1999. Morris, who has no qualifications in economics or political science, has top billing for the book on VUW’s Religious Studies website, above an evidently much less religiously relevant text published by the department, a directory of “Interfaith and Ecumenical Activity in New Zealand”.

But I digress. Morris’ seminar at Labour’s Conference prefaced the announcement of a Christian wing within the Labour Party. Putting aside her devout atheism and her refusal to acknowledge the importance of Christianity to large tracts of New Zealand society, Helen Clark has embraced the concept. Clearly now that Labour is dredging the polling abyss at 36% of the vote, there might just be electoral advantage in presenting itself as the morally compassionate party.

It is hard to refute Morris’ view, that the redistribution of wealth in society is something that Jesus would have favoured. After all, Christ did speak at length about the plight of the impoverished and disadvantaged. But it is another step entirely to draw the conclusion that welfare dependency is compassionate.

Yet Paul Morris' world view doesn't actually extend beyond the ivory rises of Kelburn Parade in Wellington.

A relative of mine got involved with a chick from Wellington’s most disadvantaged suburb of Cannons’ Creek. If you haven’t heard of Cannons’ Creek, it’s in Porirua East. People in Porirua West invent all sorts of new names for their comparatively prosperous lifestyles, just to distinguish themselves from the perennial misery of Cannons’ Creek. Outside of South Auckland, Cannons’ Creek has the worst educational achievement, the worst standards of housing and healthcare, the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, and violent and petty crime in the country. Pick any negative social statistic, and Cannons’ Creek rates alongside Otahuhu, Otara and Mangere.

Bear with me here, because it gets a little bit complicated. This relative of mine, and his partner, were the caregivers of her nephew and niece for a year. They were aged eleven and nine. They had different fathers, but the same mother. The mother had three further children to a third father, who was living with her while receiving the unemployment benefit and dealing marijuana, but took to beating the bejeezus out of his two defacto step-children. The father then impregnated the mother’s best friend, and while that best friend was pregnant, took care of the youngest baby so that she could receive the DPB until she gave birth. He then had three further children by the first mother. The mother then required that her two eldest children, in the care of their aunt and my relative, be returned to her when she realised that not having them had an impact on her benefit.

This woman has had eight children by three different fathers, none of whom are named on the children’s birth certificates. The children are subjected to domestic violence, are rarely present at school, live in third-world housing conditions, and receive little nutritional encouragement.

They do, however, have plenty of family around them. Six of their mothers’ siblings live in the same street, in a row of state houses. Of the seven adults, not one of them has achieved any formal educational qualification. They have over sixty first cousins. Not one of their parents’ generation has ever held a full-time job. Of the four living generations of that family in that Cannons Creek street, not one of them has ever been exposed to paid employment. This fourth generation of welfare-dependent children may well be born with the same genetic opportunities as a child from Khandallah or Remuera, but forty years’ of welfare dependency means that these children will grow up without knowing anybody who works, let alone takes full responsibility for their personal actions.

The precise numbers of hard-core, welfare-dependent New Zealanders is still relatively small. The Kahui families are not the norm. They comprise less than two percent of the population. Yet they contribute massively disproportionately to New Zealand’s negative social statistics: 95% of New Zealand’s violent offenders are aged between 15-25. 95% of those offenders are welfare-dependent, with substance abuse, poor housing, no educational achievement, short life expectancy, poor health standards and poor nutrition all being common themes. They tend to most often victimise each other. But not always.

The social cost is astronomical. Encouraging small clusters of the most socially disadvantaged New Zealanders to continue to see welfare dependency as their only life option is anything but compassionate. It is not the children’s fault that they were born into deprivation. It is frankly not their parents’ fault that the socialist state has told them, and their parents before them, that their welfare-based lifestyle choices are morally neutral. After forty years of a so-called benevolent welfare state, the options for the least advantaged in New Zealand have become singular.

Putting aside Labour’s electoral need for a societal underdog, creating a culture of envy towards those who prosper and do actually have lifestyle options, it’s hard to see how anybody can alleviate extreme poverty by advocating further welfare dependency. It simply doesn’t make moral sense to encourage people who cannot afford to have their present children to have more children. It doesn’t make moral sense to remove people from the economic consequences of their personal decisions. It makes even less moral sense to do that when the personal decision involves the creation of another human being who will inevitably be born into social misery.

Liberals don’t like the idea of society making moral decisions on behalf of people, yet liberal socialists advocate taking economic responsibility away from those who are welfare-dependent. The only practical solution, as I see it, is far greater intervention in the lives of the most socially destitute, to ensure that poverty shrinks, rather than grows.

But let’s get to specifics. What would help end the cycle of welfare dependency in New Zealand among the hard-core Kahuis of South Auckland and Cannons Creek? Here are a few steps, to be applied to the most vulnerable families:

  1. Every child receiving welfare must have their father named on their birth certificates. Liberal socialists will shriek such all sorts of hysterical things about mothers being raped, but you can’t set public policy around very rare events.
  2. No welfare entitlements to the father of children living with mothers on the DPB.
  3. Fathers not entitled to leave New Zealand while children living with a dependent DPB beneficiary.
  4. Requirement that all children must attend school. Non-attendance would lead to the benefit being cancelled.
  5. All children must receive medical check-ups at least every six months, to check on the nutritional and general health status of the child.
  6. Random alcohol and drug checks of welfare parents.
  7. No violent offenders permitted to live in the same home as children.
  8. A maximum six months of entitlement to the unemployment benefit in any five year period, and a maximum of two years’ entitlement to the DPB for any person in their lifetime.
  9. Frequent, random checks of homes of welfare dependent children.

The economic costs of those steps would be very high in the short term. The social cost of not doing it is even higher, now and in the long term. It’s the compassionate thing to do.


Insolent Prick said...

Good spotting, Sage!

Gloria said...

Whether or not Labour's socialism, (by this I presume he means their welfare policies) is more closely attuned to Christian beliefs is debateable. Theodore Dalrymple has worked for many years as a prison psychiatrist in Britian and he believes that the welfare state condemns more kids than it saves. What experience does Professor Paul Morris have of working with welfare families?

Admittedly the number of people on the DPB is not high, but the example you have given illustrates perfectly how hard it is to change the cycle of dependency. So it seems that if social policy isn't changed, the number of people reliant on welfare is set to increase.

Most of us believe we need a partner and a secure job before we can start a family, a misguided number of people think that they need neither. But then again, why shouldn't they? The government gives hand-outs to solo mothers to have many kids as they want. The sting comes when they realise how much harder it is to make anything of your life when you have six kids and are living on the bread-line.

So what does Paul Morris know anyway?

Sanctuary said...

Personally, I prefer the final solution for the untermenschen.

Anonymous said...

Comments on your few steps.

1. Father named? Impractical.
2 & 3. see (1)
4. & 5 Bloody good idear. Not just cancelled, but move the children into a suitable alternative home.
6. No. Let Darwinism function unfettered. Drugs, like alcohol should be legalized.
7. See 5.
8. No. I hold with Negative income tax for all, (for source of government income read Henry George) and see "unemployment benefit" as a precursor to NIT.
9. No. See 4 & 5.

IP. In summary, You are an impractical do-gooder liberal. Protect the children by all means, turn them into good citizens if their parents are guilty of physical or mental abuse most definitely, but on the other hand legalize drugs and let the parents live as they will, so long as they live within the law.

You are not your brother's keeper.

Insolent Prick said...


I really don't see how a medium-term plan to phase out welfare dependency paints me as a "do-gooding liberal".

Frankly, I don't give a shit if adults want to engage in alcohol or drug use. I simply don't think that the state should support those who choose to do so, and should particularly not support parents treating booze as more important than the care of their children.

The state, and the community, has the responsibility to intervene to protect welfare-dependent children; the state encouraged their parents to breed in the first place.

Eric Olthwaite said...

There is one thing that you have forgotten IP. When my parents had my brother and I (twins), and my sister a few years down the track, their incomes dropped as my mother went out of the workforce. By choosing to have children, they also chose to have less disposable income (alongside other changes in lifestyle). This doesn't apply with welfare at present, so why not make it so? Something like, the amount of welfare a person gets is $x, and this does not change, no matter how many children you have. If you don't like it, then work.

Insolent Prick said...

That's a different issue, Eric, and is precisely one of the reasons why welfare is so insidious.

Your parents faced the economic consequences when they chose to have children. When doing so they prepared for the arrival of a family, and adjusted themselves to the personal sacrifices associated with that.

Welfare does exactly the opposite: it removes any economic consequence from a beneficiary's decision-making. The purpose, of course, is to ensure that children are able to be cared for. The actual effect of it is that children are brought into society with no consideration of what it takes to raise them, and they are left not being cared for.

Anonymous said...

IP. I apologize for the gratuitous insult. You actually seem like quite a nice fellow.

From your response (first paragraph) I see you did not pick up on Henry George & NIT. Admittedly, the issues are complex. A starting point would be

Instead, consider the question. Which is cheaper, to keep somebody on welfare and provide Diacetyl at cost (less than $5/gr) or keep them in the nick?

Anonymous said...

Add Naenae (Hutt Valley) as one of those suburbs that is a welfare hellhole.
Agree with most of your points, but most importantly, I think is to adjust DPB only based on CPI, and NOT on the amount of children they have. So if they have more children while they are in DPB then they don't get extra cash (like Eric's idea).

Something must also be done to the rate of teenage pregnancy. It is so scary here in Naenae, that in Queensgate you are practically seeing baby pushing babies everywhere. Maybe something like, you won't get DPB until, say you are 18? This way, maybe the parents of these teenagers will pay a bit more attention to the welfare of their teenage daughter, and not encouraging her to become another DPB mom.


Eric Olthwaite said...

"Maybe something like, you won't get DPB until, say you are 18?"

Or 27, like Macsyne King. This isn't a question of age, but of support networks. People are capable of being good parents (or bad) at pretty much any age if they have a family of parents, grandparents, and siblings to give them advice and assitance. The problem is that welfare enables material independence but at the far more important cost of removing support networks - or at least making them non-essential.

You can tinker with the age of entitlement all you want, but the DPB is a sytem where the incentive to get money is to have children that you cannot support. I am sceptical as to whether even IP's suggestions could affect that.

Anonymous said...

WINZ should control how bene money is spent. In this digital age, it would be easy to set up direct payments for rent, power etc, and issue food vouchers. Only give them a small amount of actual cash a week. This would ensure that kids would have a roof over their head, power and access to food. Mum/Dad would not be able to blow the lot at the pub, as they can now.

I do believe in giving people dignity, but I reckon if you need a benefit, then you are actually saying that you need help. Throwing cash at them is not a solution.

Jen Campbell

Anonymous said...

I disagree.
we are our brothers keeper if they won't keep.
we are all responsible to each other for the way we live.
we are all watched by kids as either models or heroes.
that is a responsibility.
If you won't live like an adult then you shouldn't get treated like one.
and the 2% of kahuis should be publically monitored.
not dpb until 18. definately.

Anonymous said...

Just loved your analysis of professor Morris.Do tell more.

chris said...

I must say you lot in NZ have degenerated into are a lot of wanking pinkos.

First, I am not at all concerned at welfare.

A recent nobel economist has stated that around 80% of wealth generated by an individual is generated because of the cultural (e.g. good government) and infrastructure inheritance from past generations.

I find economist's arguments about land to be a bit thin. It was not "unowned, then somebody fenced it", rather it was tribal land, and somebody rented it from the tribe. Like Henry George, I believe that all government taxes should be sourced in land rental or resource rental tax. A person can "own" land, but the land tax should reflect the value of the land, not the cost of services. This would have the desirable result of removing huge capital gains.

That land & resource rental money should be collected and paid equally to every child, adult or whatever. No public hospital subsidies, no unemployment benefits, no free schools or anything. Just a proportion contributed for defence. All government services to be user paid, take out medical insurance if you think you need to.

So there you have welfare, call it by another name. You have also lost most of the dead wood of government. Parents can choose how their children are to be educated. If they fall down on the job, then appoint a responsible guardian.

Victimless crimes should be abandoned. I wrote a post on heroin once before, see here. The same thinking for all drugs, which being prohibited just creates a criminal class.

As for children, they are future citizens, and potentially creators of the wealth and culture of civilization. They should definitely be supported, and parents should be encouraged to have more. Hellenic Athens ascribed it's wealth and power to immigration, and the USA is great because of immigrants.

I have taken to heart IP's blog on identity, so sign this blog, after 2 anonymous posts above.

Anonymous said...

I'm a religious studies student under Paul and others in the ivory rises of Kelburn Parade!

Your description was hilarious.