Children

Collective Efforts

In his recent post, Too quick to take the credit? Morgan Godfery argues that it was a “crass” move by the Māori Party to put out a statement taking credit for the $790 million hardship package included in this years Budget. His key argument was that there were others who shifted political thinking such as Matua Hone Harawira with his Feed the Kids Bill and various advocacy groups, and as such that credit lies with those people not the Māori Party. It’s not that I don’t think others have been strong advocates on poverty. I absolutely do and of course agree they all deserve credit for their advocacy. But I think it’s unfair to discount the efforts of Dr Pita Sharples and Dame Tariana Turia and the continued efforts of Matua Te Ururoa Flavell and Whaea Marama Fox, as well as the party’s previous MP’s, parliamentary staff and members and supporters who have advanced the issue of poverty within the party and in their respective communities for the past decade.

Godfery writes that:

[C]laiming the credit for forcing the government to act seems a little, well, crass. Much of the credit belongs to Hone Harawira. It was Hone who did more than anyone else to help put child poverty on the Parliamentary agenda with his Feed the Kids campaign

Firstly, if you have had an opportunity to listen to Flavell’s Budget Speech, you will note that he said the Māori Party pulled it over the line…with a little help from National. After all, no Budget measures can take effect unless the government agree to it. The Māori Party have been strong advocates for poverty since entering Parliament, and the evidence is readily available in their policy manifesto’s. [Discussed further below].

Secondly, I completely agree that Harawira has been an outstanding advocate on issues of poverty and social justice. He certainly put child poverty on the media agenda but the claim he put it on the parliamentary agenda is bold. It’s worth noting that despite his advocacy in the media, Harawira had 2 years to put his Feed the Kids Bill before the house, yet withdrew and delayed on numerous occasions. It was only put forth following the 2014 Election, by NZ Greens Co-Leader Metiria Turei. Also note, the Māori Party voted in favour of that bill.

I also wholeheartedly agree that Campbell Live, Action Station, Child Poverty Action Group, and Auckland Action Against Poverty among other groups have been at the forefront of many community led initiatives to get the government to address poverty in Aotearoa. That doesn’t mean in order to recognise their strong advocacy that we need devolve into adversarialism. To allege misattribution by the Māori Party and essentially accuse them of riding on the coattails of the work of others is itself a misplaced attribution. The collective efforts and the varying roles each of the organisations have in policy development were not dismissed by the Māori Party. But in my view, they have every reason to say we pulled it over the line, since it is the Māori Party who through their relationship accord were able to directly influence that budget decision and absolutely the public pressure from these groups played a vital role in the Māori Party being able to secure that funding for poverty.

Action Station have expressed their tautoko of the Party in the fight against poverty:

And have acknowledged Fox for receiving the Action Station petition at Parliament on 20 May 2015.

On the above it is only fair then that we also take a brief look at the Party’s history of poverty advocacy.

In 2008, the Māori Party entered their first relationship accord with the National Party. At that time, Harawira was an elected MP for the Māori Party under the leadership of Turia and Sharples. The 2008 Policy programme that the Māori Party campaigned on included Ending Child Poverty by 2020. Part of that policy programme included:

  • Rais[ing] core benefit levels
  • Establishing an Every Child Matters fund
  • Investigating the reintroduction of a Universal Child Benefit

In 2011, the Māori Party entered a second relationship accord. At this time Harawira had left and formed his own Mana Party. The 2011 Confidence and Supply Agreement included:

  1. Supporting the ongoing implementation of Whānau Ora
  2. Establishing a Ministerial Committee on Poverty
  3. Urgently addressing the effects of poverty through health and home initiatives

See also: 2011 Maori Party policy package.

In 2014, addressing the effects of poverty was weaved through critical areas of the Party’s policy platform: Whānau Ora, Health, Education, Economic Development, Homes, Family Violence, Enabling Good Lives and so on. The goals stated were to build on the objectives and the progress made since 2008.

For the Party to be reproached for being proud of their contributions, that is, seeing the materialisation of the work their MP’s and the kaimahi behind the scenes have put in to the relationship accord over the past 7 years, is awfully undermining of their efforts.

I do agree with Godfery where he states:

Improving even one life is a positive step, but we can’t claim success until we begin changing the system which reproduces Maori disadvantage generation after generation. Budget gains may help stop the slide, but they won’t reverse it.

However, to my knowledge the Party haven’t claimed success on the “reversal” of poverty – they’ve indicated that the budget gains are a start to improving the lives of our most vulnerable whānau.

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The Budget and the Benefit

In the 2015 Budget the Māori Party negotiated and secured around $1 billion worth of funding directed toward Māori initiatives and the countries most vulnerable whānau.  The most significant gain being the increase in the core benefit rate of $25 per week. The first increase in 43 years. However, in giving with one hand, National took with the other by imposing stricter obligations on sole parents, who will now be required to return to work two years earlier and for longer hours.

Understandably, many are expressing concern that the hardship package is fraught with challenge and will not remedy child poverty in Aotearoa. For instance, Metiria Turei of the NZ Greens was quick off the mark to point out the flaws and concerns in the package:

In fairness, I’ve not seen anyone claim the hardship package is a panacea to the country’s social and economic ills. Nor would I expect that anyone would think this was some kind of magical fix. Poverty is complex. It is layered and each situation requires different approaches to not only address the hardship each whānau face, but to also step out a plan to overcome hardship permanently. This in my mind, is the benefit of having around $50 million more funding toward Whānau Ora to be distributed by commissioning agencies to ensure those funds reach frontline services, and therefore whānau.

However, unlike some others, I don’t see the increase in the core benefit rate as a negative. I applaud the Māori Party, in Te Ururoa Flavell’s words, for pulling this over the line. I mean even if National only agreed to the increase to save political face, in my mind, what matters is that for the first time in 43 years our core benefit rate has increased. This means that any future government can arguably increase the amount further without causing a massive public outcry. In my opinion, the left (many of whom are being incredibly critical of the increase) should champion this idea. Afterall, the New Zealand public are likely to adapt or perhaps cope better with incremental increases to core benefit rates than they are to sharp increases.

I do agree that the immediate material impact may be minor for many of the whānau targeted by this policy. But the long term prospects for those families who find themselves on a benefit are much better today than they were the day before the budget or indeed since the massive cuts in 1991 under the National government at that time.

A small anecdotal note, however,  for those claiming that $25 per week or the $18.40 or something that it turns out to be is laughable, or not even worth implementing.  I can assure you, as child of a beneficiary parent in the 1990’s, that “something” will always be better than nothing. I am not saying we should just settle for the bare minimum. I am saying that this “something” although not enough to fix hardship, could mean the difference between having a home with power versus a home without power. It could mean the difference between having porridge in the cupboard versus having nothing. It could mean the difference between sandwiches for lunch versus having nothing. It could mean the difference between accommodation versus eviction. It could mean the difference between going on a school trip versus feigning a sick day. So yes, based on my own personal experience I am going to be supportive of any policy that increases core benefit levels.

Is it enough? Absolutely not. But I’d just ask people to be mindful that when you claim $5, $10, $20, or $25 etc is nothing – you might want to check your privilege. It can make a difference. And even if only minor, that difference can change a persons outlook, or even just what kind of day they have. This matters to those who have been forced to become accustomed to having nothing.

Furthermore, when the ethos of a political party changes from ‘slash the benefit’ to ‘increase the core rate’ then progress has been made.  Just over three quarters of a billion dollars targeted at poverty is a milestone in these circumstances. Social change doesn’t happen from people crowing at the sidelines. It takes collaboration and nurturing of relationships to create and instill change. We are yet to see whether the National Party will embody this change in focus and become more receptive to issues around poverty in future. Although, the more stringent work requirements for sole parents on a benefit with toddlers arguably counters the notion of a genuine change.

The other argument as Turei raises above is that these increased work requirements erode the increase in the core benefit rate. I’m not going to dispute that. I wholly disagree with the onerous requirements placed on sole parents to become available for work for 20 hours p/w, as opposed to 15 hours p/w, when their child turns 3 years old, as opposed to 5 years old. Sacraparental sets out 16 reasons why that particular policy is problematic.

However, I think we can support the increase in the core benefit rate for the reasons I set out above, while remaining critical of the increased work expectations. To this end, I think the Māori Party have done some great mahi to negotiate an historic increase in the benefit coupled with the extra funding for Whānau Ora and other initiatives that can help address hardship and also temper some of the challenges inherent in the onerous work availability policy.

Food Security apparently optional for the Children of Aotearoa

Last night the government (National and ACT) voted down two bills that sought to provide food to children particularly in low decile schools. That is, children who live in the most economically deprived areas of the country. The bills essentially dealt with the issue of food security, or alternatively stated, food insecurity.[1]

Food security is considered as existing ‘when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life’.[2] It involves four essential elements: availability, access, stability and utilisation.[3] According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, availability is measured in terms of the quantity, quality and diversity of food available to consumers, while access is measured by both physical and economic access to food.[4] Access and availability are largely guaranteed through national level policy although there is no requirement for a country to ‘achieve food production self-sufficiency’.[5] Importantly, measuring the extent of food security at the national level (that is, that a country has sufficient levels of food to distribute to meet domestic demand) does not necessarily reflect the extent of security at the household or individual levels. A nation can be food secure at the national level while still food insecure at the individual level due to ‘unequal distribution of food within the country’ which may result from food prices and the issue of affordability.[6] Stability is measured through exposure to food security risk, as well as incidences of shocks such as price spikes, fluctuations in domestic food supply and political instability,[7] while utilisation measures the ‘variables that determine the ability to utilise food’ together with ‘outcomes of poor food utilisation’.[8]

Food insecurity has often been considered an issue of  inadequate food supply at the national level. But this is not the case in New Zealand, nor in most developed countries. Instead, it is often the lack of purchasing power on behalf of households.[9] In his entitlements theory, Amartya Sen emphasised similar issues of consumption, demand and access to food by vulnerable people.[10] Sen argued that a person will starve if their entitlement set is absent ‘any commodity bundle with enough food’.[11] Also, that starvation was imminent if there were a change in their factor endowment, such as, loss of land or labour power, or their exchange entitlement mapping, such as food price spikes or loss of employment.[12] He maintained that these changes would restrict a persons ability to acquire any commodity bundle with enough food.[13]

A problem that arises in respect of the Feed the Kids bill, is that critics imply the problem of food insecurity in New Zealand is not one of a chronic nature (as is often found in developing or least developed regions). Therefore, studies that suggest marginal improvements (and perhaps arguments such as Sen’s) which were largely responding to food insecurity in developing countries should not be used to defend policies that attempt to address transitory food insecurity in children in New Zealand through school lunch or breakfast programmes. The reason being that there is little evidence to show that outcomes will provide any significant benefit for the cost of such policies.  For instance, Dr Eric Crampton writes:[15]

[I]t’s hard to make a case for that we’d get any great benefit from the [school breakfast] programmes. Rather, we often find that they don’t even increase the odds that kids eat breakfast at all.

And:

To the extent that they improve outcomes in some studies, we really can’t tell:

whether the effect is from changing the timing of breakfast, in which case we should instead have a morning tea break;

whether the effect is any better than just giving those families an equivalent cash transfer.

However, the cash transfer option doesn’t ensure that children will become food secure. By that I mean it doesn’t ensure that there will be food available or that they will have access to food.  I appreciate that a cash transfer gives the parent more freedom to choose the kinds of food that the child has available to them. However, a cash transfer may also incentivise food producers to increase the price of their foods to exact a benefit for themselves through the increased purchasing power made available at the household level. This could in effect neutralise any benefit that might have otherwise accrued to food insecure households due to affordability issues. Arguably, this problem could be overcome by adjusting for any inflationary effects. But that pattern is hardly desirable and contributes to the cost of government administration. Additionally, a cash transfer may not increase what the parent spends on food at all. Parents who find themselves without work, paying rent and utilities, school costs, and servicing other debts incurred while employed or those parents that simply don’t have enough money to cover the basic bills each month may not be able to increase their food spend, it may mean they’re able to cover costs that they had been unable to cover – car licensing, dentist, school costs, sports fees etc.

However, there are also issues for advocates of the Feed the Kids bill, such as, who supplies the food to the school? Can a government get value for money if entering into a supply agreement with a corporate (who would likely create terms more favourable to itself), or is contracting with a charity necessarily the best option since they may for example, source food products from corporations? There just seems to be a contradiction in fighting capitalism from the left – who are the main advocates of this bill, to partnering with corporations either directly or indirectly.

In principle, I support the Feed the Kids bill. But like many others have suggested, it needs some work. That would have been the benefit of getting it to the Select Committee where the public could make submissions and where robust research was carried out to attempt to construct an effective policy.

An area where I’d like to see research directed, is where food is targeted at the source. That is, where the government invest in local food production. It might be that there is room to incentivise food producers to produce surpluses that are supplied to their local schools. Sure, this is an un-worked idea but we shouldn’t just limit our imagination to cash transfers or supply by food corporations. There is a human right to food and in my mind that means it is a resource first. If the government can improve local food production by investing more in the sector to deal with issues of household and individual food insecurity then perhaps we can tackle a number of issues (such as employment, health, education) while also ensuring children are not subjected to food insecurity whether it be chronic or transitory.

The right to adequate food is recognised and protected in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).[16] The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food defines this right as:[17]

…the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear…

The government also has obligations to meet food security goals as set out in the Millennium Development Declaration[18] and the Rome Declaration on World Food Security. [19] I haven’t even touched on issues of undernourishment, nutrition, food sovereignty, the role of agribusiness, deforestation, land grabs, climate issues, infrastructure issues, armed conflict, GMO’s. The topic of food security is vast, and is a priority at the international level. Pity the New Zealand government see it as optional. Perhaps, the next development in the feed the kids campaign, then might be to focus on the wider issue of food security at the household and individual level and find ways to address it that aren’t merely palliative, but involve addressing the network of challenges that cause food insecurity.

 

[1]  Some of the content of this post comprises parts of a dissertation I wrote for my LLM.

[2]  Rome Declaration on World Food Security.

[3]  FAO State of Food Insecurity in the World (2014), at 13.

[4]  Ibid

[5]  Christopher Stevens, Romilly Greenhill, Jane Kennan and Stephen Devereux “The WTO Agreement on Agriculture and Food Security” (paper prepared for the Commonwealth Secretariat, Economic Series No. 42, London, 2000), at 3.

[6]  At 2-3.

[7]  Ibid.

[8]  Ibid.

[9]  World Bank Poverty and Hunger (1986)

[10]  FAO “Chapter 2. Food security: concepts and measurement” in Trade Reforms and Food Security: Conceptualising the Linkages (FAO, Rome, 2003), at 28.

[11]  Amartya Sen Food, Economics and Entitlements (World Institute for Developmental Economics Research, United Nations University, 1986) at 8-9. For Sen, an entitlement is ‘the set of different alternative commodity bundles that the person can acquire through the use of the various legal channels of acquirement open to someone in [their] position’.

[12]  Ibid.

[13]  Ibid.

[14]  Stevens et al, at 5.

[15]   Eric Crampton “Breakfast” Offsetting Behaviour (15 May 2013)

[16]  Universal Declaration of Human Rights GA Res 217 A, III (1948); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights GA Res2200A XXI 993 UNTS 3 (1966).

[17]  “The Human Right to Food” UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

[18] Millennium Development Declaration

[19]  Rome Declaration on World Food Security

The Long Development of Harawira’s Feed the Kids Bill

Hone Harawira’s absence of late spawned a lot speculation about the alleged disintegrating relationship between the Internet Party and MANA Movement, an allegation both Leaders of both parties deny.

Various explanations were given as to Harawira’s noticeable absence from media, such as, ‘he has taken a week pre-planned leave’, ‘he is recovering following his car accident’, and ‘he’s taken a few days to spend with whānau’. And while claims he was on leave were made, Harawira soon fronted and refuted claims rival Kelvin Davis has made that he’d been missing in action from Te Tai Tokerau meetings, instead alleging it was Davis who was not at meetings where Harawira was attending.  Critical comments from Georgina Beyer alleging Dotcom was pulling the strings didn’t help allay the speculation about the relationship rift either.

Then last night, TV3 News reported that leaked emails showed a rupturing relationship between the alliance partners with Harawira asserting:

“Why am I seeing all this shit about WEED and so f****n little about FEED as in FEED THE KIDS!!!!!!!!!!!!”

If anything the email shows that Harawira is well in control, and not afraid to rock the boat if policy directions veer from MANA’s stated priorities.

But given those involved in the alliance between Internet and MANA there was always going to be the raruraru over ‘weed’. Martyn Bradbury has written extensively regarding his advocacy for decriminalisation and medicinal use of cannabis, including the following statement regarding the debate on The Vote last year:

“If you want to see some real debate on cannabis before the next election – think about crowd-funding the cannabis documentary I’m currently working on because based on last nights ‘The Vote’, you won’t see that debate occur on NZ mainstream TV”

Others are asking where the debate and focus for this particular policy came from and sure, the members probably did raise the issue, but given Bradbury’s strong advocacy and involvement in both the Internet Party and MANA Movement, it would be naive to think his influence was absent in forming and emphasising this policy direction.[1]

Out of all of this, Harawira seems to have reaffirmed his commitment to ‘Feed the Kids’. So I can appreciate his frustration with the promotion of the ‘legalise cannabis’ ads that were circulating social media.

After all, it would incredibly frustrating for Harawira, who has long advocated his anti-drug stance, to lose support for something as vital as feeding children, if supporters believed the parties stance on cannabis was the leading priority.

However, earlier today I read a post that set out a timeline suggesting an inconsistency between Harawira’s political advocacy and his parliamentary action to ‘Feed the Kids’ as his number one priority.

But rather than just post the claims, I thought I’d first check that they were accurate, and whether they actually gave rise to the disjunct claimed, to avoid accusations of bias given the post appeared on the pages of Māori Party supporters.

Claim 1: Election night 2011: asked what his first priority was Hone said it was to ‘feed the kids’

As reported in the NZ Herald regarding his re-election to Parliament in November 2011:

“Asked what his first priority was, Mr Harawira said: It’s to feed the children.”

This is an indisputable fact, since Harawira has been very vocal about his message.

Claim 2: 10 months later, 20 September 2012, the Education (Breakfast and Lunch in Schools) Amendment Bill was drawn

Harawira’s Education (Breakfast and Lunch in Schools) Amendment Bill was drawn from the preliminary ballot and went forward to the main ballot.

This claim is misrepresentative since the Bill was not drawn from the main ballot until November 2012 – around 2 months later.

Claim 3: On 15 May 2013, Mr Harawira withdrew the bill, delaying it until 10 July 2013

On 8 May 2013, Harawira published a press release urging John Key PM to ask the government to support his bill “when it comes up for first reading in Parliament next month”.

This indicates that the Bill was due for its first reading in June 2013, just over 7 months after it was initially drawn, but this timeframe is probably standard practice.

Then, on 15 May 2013, Harawira released a further press release delaying the first reading until 10 July 2013 citing:

“I’ve got a lot on over the next few weeks and the postponement means I can do justice to all my electorate activities and party leader responsibilities including the by-election in Ikaroa Rawhiti, as well as ensure the bill is given the promotion that it deserves”

In context, there was an opportunity for MANA to potentially bring in another candidate following the passing of Parekura Horomia who had held the Ikaroa Rawhiti seat. Even if the by-election been won by the MANA candidate it wouldn’t have increased the support in Parliament for the bill to pass (but it would have given MANA a boost in confidence to have another member of Parliament).

Regarding the comments about promoting the bill, I’d say the bill was actually pretty well promoted, the real difficulty was obtaining the support in Parliament rather than outside of it, so while the sentiment might have been there, it does just appear to be a deflection from Harawira’s decision to delay the first reading of the bill.

Although the month delay raises questions as to whether the bill is a parliamentary priority for Harawira, in the particular circumstances, the delay is probably justified.

Claim 4: On 10 July 2013, Mr Harawira withdrew the bill, delaying it because he had to deal with a Te Tai Tokerau issue

Almost two months later, on 9 July 2013, Trevor Mallard, on behalf of Harawira, seeks leave for the bill:

to be postponed and set down the following day as an order of the day after the Employment Relations (Continuity of Labour) Amendment Bill”

which was up for first reading on 13 November 2013.

Therefore, the Bill was further delayed until 14 November 2013 for its first reading, around a year after it had been drawn from the ballot and 2 years since Harawira was re-elected.

I am unable to locate the specific issue that Harawira felt overrode the first reading of this bill at this time.

But this delay of another 4 months, does indicate a potential pattern in its formative stages – to avoid getting the bill to first reading and the risk that it probably wouldn’t make it through to select committee and second reading stage. Whether this seemingly intentional delay suggests feeding the kids is Harawira’s priority or not, is up to the reader. I can appreciate how it could be interpreted either way.

Claim 5:  On 14 November 2013, Mr Harawira withdrew the bill, delaying it so that the House could rise early that night

Firstly, on 13 November 2013, MANA sent out a reminder to its members and supporters about the timing of the first reading of the feed the kids bill, stating:

“The Bill is likely to come up a bit later than we thought. I’m estimating it will start anytime between 8-9 pm and will run for an hour”

However, as seen in the Hansard debates, 14 November 2013, debates were interrupted as it appears the House had agreed to rise early at 6pm.

MANA followed up with a press release that suggests that the timing couldn’t be helped:

“The Feed the Kids Bill did not come up last night after all – it was next up on the parliamentary agenda but time ran out”

The question here really starts to entrench the idea that if the Bill was a priority, then why did Harawira agree to the early rising of the House after sending out an invite to supporters, and why did he not notify them in advance that he’d agreed to an early adjournment.  Additionally, why did Harawira not insist that the bill be read a first time given he had invited his supporters if ‘feeding the kids’ was his first priority?

As advised by MANA, the Bill was delayed again for first reading on 4 December 2013 but again did not receive a first reading at that time.

Claim 6: On 18 February 2014, Harawira withdrew the bill, delaying it because he would be out of town with the Maori Affairs Select Committee

I am unable to find a link to substantiate the claim that Harawira delayed due to being out of town, however, the bill was due to be read again on 11 March suggesting the statement is true.

On 11 March it was again delayed and rescheduled for first reading on 28 May 2014, 18 months after it was first drawn from the ballot and 2 and a half years after his re-election to Parliament.  

Claim 7: On 28 May 2014, the bill finally had its first reading but the House rose before the first reading was complete.

The Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill did receive its first reading in on 28 May 2014. But the claim is right that the House rose before the reading was complete.

I have no doubt that Harawira and the MANA Movement are absolutely passionate about providing food in schools to alleviate child poverty. I also appreciate that it was always going to be difficult to have the bill pass because he couldn’t obtain the requisite support to progress to select committee stage and second reading since National, ACT and United Future held 61 votes against MANA, Māori, Labour, Greens, and NZF’s 60 votes. But there is every chance after hearing the speeches that the single vote needed to support the bill may have been forthcoming.

My view is that the pattern of delay doesn’t bring into question whether Harawira was passionate about feeding the kids. There s no doubt about that. Instead, it brings into question whether Harawira appropriately promoted the bill in Parliament given his established pattern of ongoing delay which prolonged the process and in a sense prolonged the suffering of those he is so passionate about helping, due to his Parliamentary inaction.

Therefore, I do see why Māori Party supporters consider there to be a disjunct between Harawira’s political advocacy and his actions in Parliament, since the Kickstart Breakfast programme introduced was criticised by Harawira as not going far enough, despite the fact that Harawira’s feed the kids bill never even got through its first reading as a result of his own actions (or inaction).

I agree that the Kickstart programme needs to go further and the Māori Party have signalled their support for Harawira’s  feed the kids bill, as have most other parties in Parliament.  But I think that  it is disingenuous (of Harawira) to criticise a party for making a small contribution to the alleviation of child hunger if you delay the reading of a bill for 18 months that proposes to fix the thing you’re complaining of.

[1] For the record, I am personally pro-legalisation and medicinal use of cannabis.

Death Duties

I was reading Martyn Bradbury’s post Generation X have been betrayed by neoliberalism and baby boomers.

I agree with many of the points he makes including some of the points made in the article he cites, insofar as economic inequality is a massive issue.

But I do not agree that we can attribute the cause of economic inequality to a birth cohort. The focus on generation ignores or at least treats as ancillary, an obvious cause, namely, speculation or rentseeking. It is not the fact of being born between 1946 and 1964 that destroyed free education, a robust welfare system and affordable housing in NZ. It is the speculative rentseeking behaviour of those – many born within that particular cohort, some before and some after – who were already privileged enough to participate in the speculative markets that created widespread economic inequality and preserved it through the 1980-1990 economic reforms through to today.

But I want to focus on the last statement Bradbury makes at the end of his post:

“A progressive Government coming into challenge this intergenerational theft should first consider reapplying death duties to redistribute all that boomer good luck to other generations”

The argument it stems from is more or less this: Baby Boomer’s (BB) were born into and lived through a unique economic boom that created many opportunities such as affordable housing (really it was cheap land), a robust welfare system and free education. This implies that during and as a result of the economic boom, BB’s were the recipients of the benefits that flowed from those opportunities without the struggle of repaying student loan debt and being priced out of the housing market unlike the generations following the BB’s. Therefore, BB’s should compensate future generations for the loss of opportunities by paying a tax on their death.

I understand why people romanticise about taxing the BB’s on their death (as morose as it is), because when faced with communities living in poverty, there is a whole generation to blame because we are told that BB’s had everything sweet.  In doing so, we neglect the highly unjust tax and monetary system.

Often missing from the debate also is that death duties will likely incentivise the wealthy BB’s (those these arguments usually target) to shift the funds of their estate to offshore tax havens.

So, in my view, changing the tax system to capture unearned income (during the lifetime of the individual) and targeting speculative behaviour is better than waiting for people to die.

An objection also worth noting (although highly unlikely and very slippery slope) is that wealthy BB’s may become targets of vigilante groups in extremely tough economic times, on the perception that they are worth more to society dead than alive [I don’t seriously think this is an issue, but its not an impossibility either].

The idea of death duties, in my opinion, is flawed for three key reasons (although this isn’t an exhaustive list).

Firstly, it is inefficient to (re)introduce another tax into an already complex tax machine.

Secondly, there is a simpler, more efficient and effective tax that could deal with speculative behaviour/rentseeking – land value tax (LVT).

Thirdly, death duties are hardly hallmarks of a progressive government, unless what we view as progressive is retro politics. Death duties were introduced in the 19th Century in NZ and by the mid-1950’s were (mostly) abandoned [see Michael Littlewood’s History of Death Duties and Gift Duty in NZ].

On the first point, I consider death duties inefficient for many reasons, including  that it is difficult to determine (even approximate) how much revenue will be raised in any given year and so that makes planning/budgeting on how to redistribute those funds uncertain. Also, no-one mentions how these funds might be redistributed back to society e.g. citizens dividend? or just paid into the states general fund? There is also the issue that the argument for death tax is intended to assist future generations, yet these are usually the direct beneficiaries of inheritance, so the tax takes from those generations. Although the suggestion is, it is fairer because it redistributes back to all. However, by putting back into the general fund, means that living BB’s still benefit from the deaths of their birth cohort, while the direct recipients have their inheritance taxed.

The uncertainty of fund levels also impacts on administrative costs such as staffing, office space, office equipment – noting that some of the revenue collected would be redistributed back into administrative costs, reducing the pool of funds available for social redistribution.  And the tax itself adds to the growing number of taxes (increasing bureaucracy) the government expects individuals to pay thereby increasing the reach of the state from the life of the individual into their death.

On the second point, the level of tax paid by the community is already excessive. Most people agree we need to reduce the tax burden not amplify it. The focus should not be on how many other taxes we can use to collect the revenue necessary to provide public services. I maintain my position that LVT and abolishing or significantly reducing all other productive taxes appears to be the fairest and most efficient way to deliver public services, alleviate poverty, disincentivise speculative behaviour and incentivise innovation and entrepreneurship.

So discussions on economic inequality ought to focus on how we can collect revenue efficiently and effectively while reducing the tax burden. Without reiterating previous posts, I have written on LVT  here and here and you can also view the LVT page of resources by clicking on the tab at the top of this page.

[Note: There are many Georgists/LVT proponents who do support inheritance taxes, so this post isn’t intended as a reflection of the broad church of Georgism/Geoism]

The third point is that NZ has had death duties in the past and they were abandoned. Calling a government progressive for reintroducing them is like saying a Beatles Tribute band is progressive. Death duties are retro politics. Admittedly, the same claim might be levied against LVT; however, LVT has not existed as a single tax and is currently being researched around the globe as economists and political and non-political groups look for ways to tame the speculative beast and ensure prosperity for all.

I’ll also point out, that some BB’s actually saved their earned income to pass on to their children. They may have struggled through their life for this specific purpose. Are their earnings something that we can justifiably tax? I’m not convinced it is at all.

I absolutely agree that we need to deal with economic inequality – and fast.  I also support the idea of redistribution, provided it is done in a manner that minimises hierarchy rather than reinforces it.  But if we unpack the phrase ‘death duties’ we see that it grants the state a ‘right’ to collect revenue from individuals on their death, since  individuals (would) have a correlative duty to pay the state on their death. Death duties are effectively a death tax, and taxes are collected through enforcement measures exercised through state hierarchy. So, death taxes reinforce state hierarchy through a perverse strategy for managing economic inequality by ‘waiting for people to die’ so that the state can ‘benefit from their death’.

I suspect many readers will disagree with me about death duties; however, my question is what does it say about humanity if there is not even freedom from the reach of the state in death?

Performance funding is a terrible and harmful idea

Source: Chicane Southland Times

Source: Chicane Southland Times

I’ve preached in many a post that central planning is basically the devils work. I stand by that. Where power can be concentrated, it will be. This isn’t limited to economic issues either – it traverses the entire ‘state sector’.

Minister Hekia Parata’s announcement that she is looking to fund schools according to the progress their pupils make, reinforces my contempt for central planning. Should this proposal come to fruition, it will be extremely harmful for children.

Parata was critical about ‘schools in deprived neighbourhoods’ being paid more, ‘as a blunt instrument’ and admitted that ‘some gentrified areas, especially in Auckland, could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, while others would gain similar amounts’

This suggests that Parata would cut funding to schools in lower socio-economic zones based on the arbitrary device her government uses to measure the performance of pupils. The zone is important here too – it restricts pupils from attending better funded schools outside their zoned neighbourhood.

Parata’s idea places the funding burden on pupils. In effect, their schools would lose funding if they [the pupils] didn’t perform well in their tests, exams, assessments etc. Reiterating, their performance is subject to a highly contentious arbitrary measure.  This is a perverse policy and is prima facie inconsistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Convention).[1]

For the purpose of the Convention, child is defined as including generally every human being below the age of eighteen years. So, the Convention applies to almost all pupils who would be affected by Parata’s proposal.[2]

Art 28 of the Convention provides that States must recognise that all children have a right to education with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity. Additionally, Art 2 (2) provides that children should be free from all forms of discrimination.

As Chris Hipkins (Labour Party) states:

a child’s achievement depended on a wide range of factors including whether they were living in a cold, damp house and whether their parents were educated and had time to spend with them

Hipkins barely even touches on the multitude of factors that affect a child’s performance at school, yet we can already deduce that some children, particularly those already at a disadvantage, would suffer greatly under a performance-funding model because the States commitment to provide equal opportunity in education perishes and children could become subjects of discrimination based on their socio-economic backgrounds.

Parata appears to acknowledge that this proposal is discriminatory when she implies that schools in deprived neighbourhoods could potentially lose hundreds of thousands in funding based the progress of their pupils. She also appears to ignore that the increased pressures placed on lower socio-economic families exacerbates the poor performance of those pupils.

Many have criticised the National Party’s implementation of the arbitrary National Standards measures and the shifting in funding from public schools to charter schools[3] and now criticise the proposed potential of the state to transfer school funding from lower scoio-economic areas upwards.

But the standard response is simply to replace one form of centralised power with another, by voting for the other side. This doesn’t fix the problem. It just shifts who holds that centralised power. Concentration of power is susceptible to the same abuses irrespective of who is exercising it.

If we want to avoid policies that are discriminatory and removes equal opportunity, particularly for children, then we need to reject the path that leads to the concentration of power – the centralised state. Because as mentioned at the start of this post, those with the ability to attain power can and (as we have observed) do assert it contrary to popular will. Reiterating here that this is not a feature unique to the National Party – its the flaw in our supposedly ‘representative democracy’.

The usual argument against decentralisation is that without central government, private corporate tyrannies will rule. I think this is misguided. Decentralised public entities could exist to guide and support public institutions because removing central government involves removing the privileges central government grant in favour of big business.

I don’t presume that we could just do away with the central government today and have a perfectly formed, and functioning decentralised community tomorrow, but prioritising it as a goal means we can start planning and implementing the infrastructure that would support decentralisation and in effect the proper measures to deal with social an economic inequality.

If we want quality education for our children, then we need to eliminate central government control of it.

[1] NZ ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993  subject to specific reservations.

[2] Noting, some students in their final year of secondary school are 19 years old.

[3] I have defended charter schools (to an extent) in previous posts on the basis that they are decentralised educational institutions that have the potential to provide education according to the needs of the pupils who attend and in conjunction with the families and local community (e.g. Te Kura Hourua O Whangarei Terenga Paroa). I’m not convinced that charter schools are necessarily ‘for profit’ entities.

Worker co-ops and Charter Schools

Critics argue that charter schools will damage the education system in NZ. These arguments are predominantly raised by those of the political left, and in particular, Teachers Unions.

The NZ PPTA considers that there is no evidence to support importing the charter school model into NZ Education. Moreover, that the current legislation allows for parents to set up their own schools, if they are dissatisfied with their local school, provided they have at least 21 students enrolled. 

I asked the PPTA (via Twitter) if teachers were able to run a charter school as a worker co-operative; they replied that the legislation did not appear to allow for this.

I then sent an email to Hon. Hekia Parata and asked:

Does the legislation for Charter Schools allow for the possibility of teachers managing a charter school as a workers co-op? If not, why not?

I received the following reply:

The legislation (s158A Education Act 1989) requires the sponsor of a Partnership School to be a body corporate. Any workers or teachers co-operative would therefore have to be incorporated in some way before it could put forward a proposal to become the sponsor of a Partnership School.

During the Third reading of the Bill, Metiria Turei, Leader of the Greens stated that charter schools have no future in this country should there be a change in government.

This sentiment is also shared by the NZ Labour Party.

If Unions and those of the political left are movements symbolic of bringing an end to bossism, i.e. where workers take control of the means of production; then why on earth are they not advocating for the legislation to incorporate workers cooperatives, rather than pushing for state owned and managed institutions?

This is actually an opportunity for teachers to be freed from the hierarchical systems of institutional education and to bring about a fair and equitable workspace for the teachers and their students.

Even in a market based theory, schools run for profit are less likely to obtain the students necessary to keep the school going if Teacher/Worker co-operatives are able to provide a better educational experience for their students. This competition is good for students because in a workers co-operative, teachers would stake their livelihoods on ensuring the success of the school which depends on the success of the students. It means that teacher co-operative schools would have registered teachers. Although it would mean an end to teachers unions, and perhaps that is a reason why the Unions may not persist along the lines of encouraging workers co-operatives (note: this is a purely speculative comment).

Moreover, Labour and the Greens could also advocate for a proper oversight process to protect the students.

Sure the overseas models have had some poor results and I appreciate that there are some real issues in NZ with the handling of the implementation of charter schools and that the legislation must be improved to better protect the students.

I consider that we should focus on how we can improve the education experience for students and resist the temptation to  measure students against an arbitrary standard suggestive that students are homogeneous entities lacking diversity in their background, skills or knowledge.  We must encourage innovative strategies and move away from a ‘state knows best’ narrative.

The War on Kids documentary points out that while we have conducted many studies on education, there are no studies that show that compulsory education is the best way to impart the necessary skills and knowledge on children to assist them to lead happy and productive lives. Lets not just dismiss the idea of the charter school model, but look at ways of improving it.

 

And the government says “Punish the kids!”

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And the government says “Punish the kids!” Well, not exactly. But they may as well. The National government have contributed around $40 million dollars in funding to private schools, but will not even entertain the $5-6 million Kids Can estimate or the $15 million CPAG estimate (estimates according to David Shearer on Radio Live this evening) to assist in alleviating some of the effects of child poverty.

The price however, is irrelevant. The relevant point is the flawed argument propagated by many economically-right thinking people (ERTP): If people can’t afford to have kids then they shouldn’t have them.

Isn’t the value of hindsight a wonderful thing? How many times have we all made decisions that attract costs that on hindsight we probably shouldn’t have made even though the decision was reasonable in the circumstances at the time? I’m sure we can all think of examples on both a personal and political level.

Admittedly, having children is a more complex decision because the relevant factors are not just around affordability. But according to many ERTP, a decision to have a child should always be based on affordability. Whether you say it out loud or not, the implication of this premise a big resounding ‘keep your legs shut’ or you have no right to complain when your kids are starving. That is effectively the message the government gave women today and previous governments have given in the past. And what about the solo dad’s struggling to raise their kids? Well, the government just gave you a kick in the nuts too! Don’t stick your bits inside a female; you can’t trust that she’ll stay around to feed your kids. Harsh? Yes. But this is the message a government sends when it refuses to incorporate funding for hungry children into the national budget.

I am amazed ERTP having come out and blamed women for child poverty given the underlying premise of these arguments. But I digress.

We can accept the premise that it is the parents responsibility to feed their children. Generally. However, what we must expect is that when parents are unable or fail to provide for their children, the government will step in to assist those children. If they don’t, then what? I can appreciate that the government don’t want parents to abdicate their responsibility because the government have a safety net. But this argument is the same one that Bill English gives about parental responsibility. It is overly simplistic and lacks the empathy required to build a community that thrives. Moreover, this argument is redundant when these families are forced into poverty through failed economic policies.

What’s not taken into consideration when demonising these parents who are unable to feed their children is the fact that children aren’t born in hindsight. Additionally, other arguments flapped around various social media sites and on talk back radio are the sterilisation of women or forced abortion if the prospective parent[s] have a poor financial outlook. Wtf? Fortune telling determines who can have children? This quackery is normally scoffed at but is legitimate when it applies to persons in poverty? What gives any person the right to determine that a prospective family with a poor financial outlook should terminate a pregnancy?  That is a very dangerous road to go down. When we start advocating for the State to determine who can and cannot have children and under what circumstances, it begins to look remarkably like the eugenics programmes carried out in Nazi Germany and the less talked about programmes in the United States.

It is a myth that people live in poverty by choice. They stay in poverty because successive governments have failed to make the necessary reforms to improve their situations or to prevent people ending up in that situation. And this is no accident. Without poverty, capitalism cannot survive. Poverty usually stems from an inability to obtain employment or to obtain employment that improves ones’ financial situation. I have discussed this in earlier posts, but have no expectation for you to go back and read them, so here is my summary:

“In order to sustain a capitalist growth economy, out of necessity we must ensure there is a stable level of unemployment. However, we must be careful not to make any welfare scheme that compensates for this necessity, too attractive, or the whole economy will collapse”

This is in effect government induced poverty. ERTP must accept that when the government creates poverty for their benefit, it must at least act to alleviate it. A start is to provide kids with food in schools, but don’t expect that it is the full solution. A government that refuses to take action to assist these kids, punishes them.

Update: Below is an extract of a post on Facebook. I’m using it to show the ineptitude of the many people who consider State intervention bad (i.e. the ERTP described in this post) unless it acts to controls the lives of those who are forced into poverty through ineffective economic policy. Although written in the context of the US, I’ve seen many ERTP in NZ hit the like button on this:

This was in the Waco Tribune Herald,   Waco  , TX , Nov 18, 2011

PUT ME IN CHARGE . . .Put me in charge of food stamps. I’d get rid of Lone Star cards; no cash for Ding Dongs or Ho Ho’s, just money for 50-pound bags of rice and beans, blocks of cheese and all the powdered milk you can haul away. If you want steak and frozen pizza, then get a job.

Put me in charge of Medicaid. The first thing I’d do is to get women Norplant birth control implants or tubal ligations. Then, we’ll test recipients for drugs, alcohol, and nicotine. If you want to reproduce or use drugs, alcohol, or smoke, then get a job.

Put me in charge of government housing. Ever live in a military barracks? You will maintain our property in a clean and good state of repair. Your home” will be subject to inspections anytime and possessions will be inventoried. If you want a plasma TV or Xbox 360, then get a job and your own place.

In addition, you will either present a check stub from a job each week or you will report to a “government” job. It may be cleaning the roadways of trash, painting and repairing public housing, whatever we find for you. We will sell your 22 inch rims and low profile tires and your blasting stereo and speakers and put that money toward the “common good..

Before you write that I’ve violated someone’s rights, realize that all of the above is voluntary. If you want our money, accept our rules. Before you say that this would be “demeaning” and ruin their “self esteem,” consider that it wasn’t that long ago that taking someone else’s money for doing absolutely nothing was demeaning and lowered self esteem.

If we are expected to pay for other people’s mistakes we should at least attempt to make them learn from their bad choices. The current system rewards them for continuing to make bad choices.

AND While you are on Gov’t subsistence, you no longer can VOTE! Yes, that is correct. For you to vote would be a conflict of interest. You will voluntarily remove yourself from voting while you are receiving a Gov’t welfare check. If you want to vote, then get a job.

Note: I do not endorse what was said in this Facebook post and am well aware of the flaws in the arguments this person makes. I apologise in advance for any rage this excerpt may cause those with a social conscience.

Food in schools

This week the Labour Party announced that it would be supporting the provision of food in low decile schools, in a way coat tailing on the election policy of the Mana Party.
This has spawned a lot of debate between those who think it promotes a lack of parental responsibility and those who think no child should ever go hungry, irrespective of their background.  
The argument behind providing food in schools is that it is estimated around 270,000 children are turning up to school without having had breakfast and without lunch. In a country that prides itself on fair equality of opportunity, the figure is astounding. Some will argue that the State has a duty to ensure that its citizens, especially the children, are not deprived of food. Critics of that argument suggest that it is the role of parents to provide food for their children and not the role of the State. 
So who should be responsible for feeding children during school hours?
Matt Nolan, an economist, who writes on the TVHE blog, suggests that as children are forced to be in an institution for most of the day, we ought to make sure that the institution provides the services required. His baseline for his argument is as follows: 
“We need to think about primary and secondary school education more clearly to get a good idea about the policy of free lunches.  Why do we provide this sort of education, and what does public provision achieve?  We provide this type of education to ensure there is equality of opportunity for individuals in society.  On that note, having shared lunches at school ensures the same thing – we know that appropriate nutrition at a young age is essential for the physical and mental development of an individual.  We know that, especially in low decile schools, there is a definite “underinvestment” in this attribute for kids”

see: http://www.tvhe.co.nz/2012/09/10/free-food-in-schools-equality-of-opportunity/

I agree with this argument. The State specifies certain learning outcomes and in order to achieve those outcomes, every child needs to have the same starting point. While food is not the only factor influencing how a child learns, it is certainly a key factor for ensuring they have the energy to learn.
My issue with the policy proposed by Labour is that it does not go far enough. My view is that lunches provided by the State should be provided in all public and integrated schools. Without detracting from the issue of child poverty, my concern is that while some parents can afford to send their children to school with lunch, are they sending them with the appropriate food? Children’s lunchboxes are often packed with sugar.  The impact of sugar on a child’s learning, in my view, has an effect similar to a child who has little to no lunch. When a child comes crashing down off the sugar, they are lethargic and lack the energy required to learn. It is common knowledge that in many Scandinavian countries, food in schools is standard practice, and this correlates to the relatively good health outcomes in those countries as well. Therefore, by providing lunches in all state funded schools, we could address the correlative issues of hunger and health.
Criticisms that I have heard or read about suggest that feeding children in schools does nothing to address parental responsibility. The assumption is that parents will get lazy and rely on the State to feed their child or children. That attitude is the result of a punitive mind and a lack of compassion through an inability to understand the complexity of the issues faced by parents raising children in poverty. Additionally, they label parents who are unable to feed their children as lazy, useless and negligent, as well as alcoholics, drug addicts, smokers, gamblers and so on. These “labels” do not belong to poor parents. Wealthy parents can also be lazy, useless, negligent, alcoholics. Drug addicts, smokers etc.  My point is that publicising these attitudes affects children and has a huge impact on their confidence. 
When I was at primary school and my mother was on a benefit, if we had no food for lunch, I would pretend I was sick so I didn’t have to go to school, or at lunchtime I would go wait down the road outside the school grounds and tell my friends I was waiting for my lunch to be dropped off, or I would go hide in the cloak bay until the lunch bell rang and everyone had finished eating. Children feel the shame of their parents not being able to feed them and that shame comes from people characterising poor parents according to the labels mentioned above. 
Moving on, with all the socio-economic indicators aside, no parent wants to be in a situation where they are unable to provide lunch for their child or children at school. In fact, I would go as far as to say, that being unable to provide such necessities is likely to be a huge factor exacerbating the stresses that cause the above-mentioned problems. 
Punitive measures suggested by the critics of state funded lunches for children, would rather have poor parents criminalised for not providing lunch for their children or stopping their benefit. My view is that by addressing child poverty through penalising parents is counterproductive. Such penalties add further stress to these families, and stress does not make for good outcomes. 
Providing food in schools as a standard practice is more a rehabilitative approach. It signals to poorer families that the State will take care of the child at school and provide all that is necessary for that child during their time in the school and encourages the parents to take responsibility while the child or children are in the home. Critics will argue that this is highly idealistic. However, if the government makes clear that the raising of the child is a shared responsibility, then the parents can focus on ensuring that they can provide at the least the necessities at home removing the stress of wondering how they are going to provide those necessities for the child at school. The stress is diminished through knowing the State is supporting you, and through that co-operation, parents may start to see hope in their future and in their children’s future.  I am not denying that some parents may still take advantage of the situation, but children should not bear the penalty of the choices made by their parents. 

Brief comment on charter schools

I’ve been a little hesitant to take a position on the implementation of charter schools – the flagship policy of the National-Act coalition and was probably only adverse to the idea based on my own political leanings and the fact that I didn’t really understand what they meant for the education system.

On the one hand, my understanding is that they give parents and in particular minority groups more choice for educating their children, and in that respect are conducive to multicultural policy in NZ. And on the other hand, they undermine the public school system on the basis that the government are implicitly accepting that public schools do not cater to the educational needs of all children in NZ. In providing more choice to parents in respect of education, I am in favour.

The worry about charter schools; however, is taxpayer funding. In effect, charter schools are private schools partially funded by taxpayers with (arguably) no accountability to the taxpayer. In this respect, I am opposed.

My view is then, that public schools should be funded to cater to the needs of minority groups as well as provide all parents with more choices for educating their children. It seems nonsense for the government to say in this economic climate we cannot afford to improve the public system school to this extent but we can fund charter schools.
A side comment about the charter school issue though is the way in which a minority party were able to force a policy into implementation. From the coalition agreement it is clear that in order to obtain the support needed from ACT, National preapproved a policy that required legislative changes:
“Hon John Banks will be appointed…with delegated authority to lead the work on charter schools…”

While this tactic is probably not new to politics, it does not bode well for democracy. Remembering ACT only won their electorate seat in Epsom (which in itself took advantage of the coat tailing made possible through a poorly constructed MMP system) and received 1.1% vote overall yet were promised an immense power in being able to determine how taxpayer money will be used in the context of the ACT charter school initiative.  

Overall, my point is that the idea of providing more choice for parents in respect of their children’s education is a positive but in order to do this private bodies should not be able to profit off taxpayer funded institutions.
Just as I was writing this, I was directed to the following link below for further consideration. Very interesting and makes alot of sense (Thanks Holly!).