NZ Greens

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

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Ouch. The Left Polling Low

The latest poll sees a massive defeat of the Left as Labour slump to a meagre 23.2% and National rise to 56.5% enough to govern alone. As Jono Natusch writes:

The only minor party that might look at the poll with any comfort is Internet Mana, which picks up a combined 2.1%, which would likely bring them a third MP, should Hone Harawira hold Te Tai Tokerau.

Frank Macskasy has a theory on the mass drop in Labour/Green Bloc support: the budget, economy and infighting within Labour and between potential coalition partners.

I think he is partially correct. But I think he avoids the elephant in the room – the rise of the Internet-Mana Party (IMP). The contentious alliance, announcement of the IP Leader and the exorbitant funds being injected to fund the IMP campaign coincides with the drop for Labour Green support in the latest polls. It will be interesting to see if this remains a trend.

There is some irony in this ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’   justification. Those employing the phrase failed to consider that not all New Zealander’s are  endeared to Dotcom and many left voters might be more inclined to have National as their friend than Dotcom. The polls are increasingly suggesting that people  are preferring a National led government and all its toxicity to what is on offer on the left.

The averages of  the June polls according to David Farrar:

I guess Labour and the Greens need to work out if any drop in their support is related to IMP and what steps they need to take to mitigate further losses.

 

Brief note on party politics and MMP

Thinking about oppositional versus collaborative representation

Election promises are heating up but the messages are muddier than ever. With the Conservative leader suing the Green leader because name-calling. The Greens complaining to Labour because mollyhawk name-calling.  ACT sniggering at everyone for their lack of vision but offering none. And National throwing Labour in the snake pit about secret trusts and donations only to trip and fall in the pit straight after. Hypocrisy is rife.

But what messages have been clear?

Despite being one of the party’s with the least public and political support, the Mana Party positively conveyed the strongest and clearest message Feed the Kids and in the process etched the concept deep into the public consciousness. The message seems to resonate widely including with unlikely supporters of the right wing variety, even though it is highly unlikely to draw any election votes from such persons.

And the National Party has managed to ingrain the message that the economy is in great shape, and on track to improve and strengthen thanks to the expertise and persistence of its front bench corporate clergy and a National led government.

This is the message a large proportion of the public are buying and redistributing back into their enclosed middle to upper class circuits. Notwithstanding, that house prices are overinflated, interest rates are on the rise, power prices are increasing, children and vulnerable persons are still living in poverty and education and human rights standards on the downward curve and so on.

But other than those I struggle to see any other really strong on topic messages sustained in public discourse. While I was thinking about the poor messaging I  drifted into a petrifying hypothetical Parliament where National and Labour were in a coalition government. And I think its relevant, but will draw the connection further on.

So thinking out loud: why do Labour and National never talk about creating a coalition government?

Ideology conflicts? Nope. The hacks might make a distinction. They have to. But the underlying themes in policy – really aren’t that different. At least not as different as say National (centre right, moderately liberal, statist) and ACT (far right, libertarian, anti-state) or Labour (centre left, moderately liberal, statist), and Greens (eco-left, eco-liberal, eco-statists). Those parties we might typically think as traditional allies have less in common, than the two pillars we tend to think of as opposition who share many commonalities.

I’m not at all seriously suggesting that these two parties form a coalition government. I mean it’s laughable to even conceive of one of the two surrendering its political power to its supposed foe. But its important to recognise that the system supports and maintains this duopoly on Parliament. The MMP system did not remove the FPP duopoly, it reinforced it (at least in some capacity). MMP was intended to increase representation and its unclear if the net effect was even remotely significant. The oppositional nature of MMP is contrary to the idea of collaborative democratic representation.  Its arguably natural, and perhaps necessary for smaller parties to gravitate toward larger ones. But this always entails mass compromise on principle and policy and therefore relinquishing constituency voting power to the majority. Its no wonder most people just vote on the two pillars.

In terms of stronger messaging, I think its worthwhile considering the capacity of parties – particularly the minor ones, to work across the spectrum on shared views. There are likely grounds where ACT and Mana have a common view (even if its very small), or Greens and United Future etc and I think these small areas of agreement are important to help inform voters and promote a collaborative MMP system over the oppositional structure we have, which could encourage collaborative societies.

Further comment: 

I appreciate that parties across the spectrum enter into Memorandums of Understanding, for example,  the Greens and National with the home insulation initiative. But I am mostly referring to minor parties working together more, and in a more public way since these parties are set up in response to the lack of representation of their members and potential constituents to the major parties.  The total votes for all minor parties is not insignificant.

Musings on the Taxpayers Union

When the Taxpayers Union (TU) first formed, I did find it amusing that its typically right wing founders used a generically left wing term to name their product.

The key objective of the TU is a ‘fair and efficient tax system’. Who can argue with that? Currently our tax system is highly inefficient and hugely unfair. It taxes productive incomes earned through our efforts and rewards rent-seeking behaviour by not taxing unearned economic rent.

The question on the minds of many is whether the TU is a non-partisan group? Recent comments in the NZH by TU co-founder Jordan Williams might suggest not despite the non-partisanship noted on the TU website.

 When asked about deaf MP Mojo Mathers’ taxpayer-funded trip to be interviewed on a small provincial radio station, Williams made the following comments:

 It’s amazing that she has so little to do with her time to actually travel to a community radio that probably has as many listeners as you can count on your hand

The only silver lining is that the time spent travelling to go on the station in the middle of nowhere is less time spent dreaming up new ways to spend tax payers money

Williams’ comments leave the impression that he sees this particular instance as ‘government waste’. Either that, or his comments were purposively partisan.

Here are the issues as I see them:

  1. Are Williams comments ableist, is he suggesting that disabled MP’s ‘dream up new ways to spend tax payers money’ on wasteful expeditions that reach only a ‘handful’ of people; or
  2. Is Williams commenting on Mathers position as a Green MP – noting the Greens are largely attacked by ‘right wing partisans’ for overtaxing and overspending.

On point 1, if Williams sees taxpayer funding for disability as ‘wasteful government spending’ then he is hardly promoting a ‘fair’ tax system. Fairness is not simply about who is taxed but also about how any revenue collected is then redistributed back to society.

On point 2, if Williams was making partisan comments, then he has spoken out of step with the TU, since the TU acknowledges that:

Individual members have their own political involvements, but as an organisation the Taxpayers’ Union will be vigorously independent in promoting the interests of New Zealand taxpayer.

What about the NZH for even raising this as news?

As @lmfbs points out its unclear whether the TU approached NZH with this story or vice versa. How does it change the story? Arguably, it changes the context and the motivation behind the reported comments.

Additionally, while the NZH story indicates the author was seeking the view of the TU on whether Mathers trip was value for taxpayer money, its unclear if they interviewed Williams in his personal capacity or as a member of the TU. Yes, they refer to Williams as a Director, but was that on the assumption he was speaking in his capacity as a TU member or in his personal capacity?

For many, the answer probably doesn’t matter, because as @ColeyTangerina points out:

There is a genuine disdain for the TU because of those involved in founding it and their very public political partisanship. The sentiment conjured up by Williams’ comments,  irrespective of whether or not they were misreported, adds weight to the scepticism about the the true nature of the TU. However, as a critic of the NZ tax system, I’m not against the establishment of the TU in principle,  I’m just not convinced it won’t devlove into some partisan right wing think tank. Although, others probably think it already is.

Like the TU, I do think that central government exerts too much control over society, and in my view many functions such as education and health could be dealt with at the local level. Obviously, these are topics for future posts, but I think its worth thinking about how we reduce the size and power of central government without destroying vital public services. Local governance creates local opportunities and allows communities to participate in the issues that affect them.

Taxes captured through a central body reinforce a centralised state and therefore central state planning. The TU appear to promote reducing the size of government, providing tax cuts for business and opposing progressive taxation, but at this stage it offers no innovative alternatives. Perhaps, it just means another tax movement needs to be established to challenge these orthodox approaches to economics and taxation.

#Herecomesthesun: The Greens Solar Home project

Firstly, there is some magic in using a Beatles song as a hashtag to promote your policy on solar energy. On one hand, it will resonate with the diehard Green voter given that its a criticism of corporate life. On the other hand, one can’t help but smile when listening along given its folky beat. And its The Beatles, well, more correctly George Harrison. Maybe its just me, I don’t know. But I think that its use is some political psychology gold.

Secondly, the Greens Solar Home project is the kind of radical policy that the Greens need to reinvigorate their voting constituency. Its a bold move amid their neolibral-lite policies, to encourage consumers to ‘take the power back’. Another pun from a band also likely to resonate with the diehard Green voter and anti-state renegades. But pertinent since it implies that the consumer has the power both in terms of their energy source (no more bills to Mr Deep-pockets) and their choice on how best to manage their energy needs (self-determination).

BUT there is a ‘but’ when considering the specifics of this policy and I’m hoping my critique doesn’t minimise the clout of the overall message.

The thing about political parties is that they seem to abhor revision. In the face of criticism, parties often dig in their heels – even if that means advocating bad policy. I hope the Greens can internalise the feedback from Green voters and even non-Green voters and use it to show that they are open to revision where necessary, which is in itself conducive to participatory democracy, and in line with the underlying message of solar project – self-determination.

For ease of reference the Greens policy document can be located here.

In it you will see, that the Greens offer low interest loans to homeowners to install solar panels. The repayments are made through the homeowners council rates. That is, the loan is to be repaid at $900 per year on top of their rates. The interest on the loans is said to be about 4.1% p.a, although this interest figure is subject to change.

The Greens envision a savings of $100 per year for homeowners. Given interest must also be paid on that loan per year, its unclear if the Greens will require the interest on top of the $900 repayment, in which case, the savings figure of $100 is false. Or if the interest is included in the $900 per year, which means the term of the loan is longer.

Some argue that at least the repayments aren’t going to a foreign-owned company. But the loans are made through a foreign bank and provided to the consumer via the government. So in effect, the repayments go to the worst of them all. The Bankers.

What about the effect on homeowners? Its true that some homeowners will benefit from solar power, particularly those who live in the homes they own. Depending on social preferences, house prices may rise if solar is viewed as an improvement to the property. Which is fine for those who tenant their won properties.

What about the renters? landlords may decide to install solar to improve the value of their properties. The effect, is likely to see the rent increase for two reasons: the market rate for solar homes will increase if there is demand for solar powered homes, and the landlord will need to repay the loan for the installation of the solar panels. So for low income renters, this may be a negative, since renting can already place a large burden on those individuals or families. If landlords are prevented from passing on the costs of the loan to install solar, then fewer rental properties will have solar, which affects a large proportion of the lower socio-economic demographic who are the people who need access to soalr the most. Also, it diminishes the purpose of the Greens policy.

Also, the idea that excess power generated could provide a return to the homeowner is a bit disingenuous. If the uptake is significant then power prices will fall. This means that the price at which you can sell your excess power is probably negligible. In addition, the Greens NZ Power policy, intends to drive down the price of power!

This article by  George Monbiot  (h/t to @gtiso) suggests that solar panel installation ‘is the ideal modern status symbol, which signifies both wealth and moral superiority’ [in the middle class], ‘even if it’s perfectly useless’. The suggestion is that the policy either intentionally or inadvertently operates as a wealth transfer to the middle class. Similar could be said of the Greens policy.

What about disposal? It was pointed out that solar panels are difficult to dispose of because they contain toxic materials. Solar panels are estimated to have a life span of about 25 years. The policy is unclear on how the Greens intend to dispose of the panels at the end of their life spans. If they will create landfills in NZ, then there are additional costs involved in setting up a land fill for this purpose, not to mention issues with dumping toxic materials into NZ soils. The alternative is to export the waste material and have some other community deal with the effects of solar panel pollution. Admittedly, I’m not very clued up on how to dispose of toxic materials or the extent of the toxicity in solar panels, so this worry of mine could be completely unfounded.

So I have outlined my gripes, so let me just reiterate that I wholeheartedly support initiatives to address climate change and moves towards decentralisation and clean energy. So  one way I see for improving the policy is implementing the combination of LVT and UBI (see my post on the benefits of UBI here).

LVT as mentioned multiple times in previous posts, brings land (broadly defined to include all natural phenomena not produced through human exertion) into common ownership – distinct from collective or private ownership. The economic rent collected is pooled and can be redistributed via a UBI. Income taxes are abolished (or significantly reduced during the transition) giving workers and non-workers (due to UBI) the ability to invest in their choice of clean energy (if that’s what they desire).  It might even be that communities decide to reduce the UBI for each person and use the remaining amount to invest in infrastructure and clean energy. Who knows. But that is self-determination. It extends this policy and makes it fair for all.

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.