Cannibalising society for the money proxy

datePosted on 10:20, May 19th, 2010 by Lew

This talk of not being jealous about tax cuts, and the unstated supposition that the rich are just better reminded me about a couple of posts I wrote a year or so ago about the “money proxy”: the idea of wealth as an easy quantifier for a person’s value. I’ve rehashed the argument here because I think it’s particularly apposite given the forthcoming budget. Paraphrasing myself:

Money is both the means by which we judge a person’s worth (in the human sense) and the resource needed to enjoy the comfort and dignity to which human beings are entitled by simple virtue of their being human beings. Because the same thing is used as both a means and an end, there is inevitable conflict: by denying people access to sufficient food, healthcare, accomodation, etc. on the grounds that they cannot afford to buy it for themselves, a society tacitly says: you are not worth it because you do not have enough money.

Previously, I had argued that while there’s considerable shared ground between National and Labour (both want economic growth, believe in the state’s role in providing some public services, etc.) the predominant difference between the two in economic terms is in the reflexive positions to which they repair when hard choices need to be made. National believes in supporting ambition, Labour in mitigating harm:

The former sees achievement as the highest goal, and failure as a necessary collateral effect of attempted achievement. They grade a society by its upper bound, by how much success its leading members achieve. In this regard, the ideology emphasises ambition, celebrating that qualities as the most beneficial to society while disregarding the worst consequences of its failure – destitution, disease, starvation, etc. The caricature of an ambitionist, if I may coin the term, sees the world as humanity’s oyster, and humanity in positive terms – as potentially successful and satisfied and healthy and secure, and considers that anyone who does not achieve these things has simply not tried hard enough, or for long enough, or lacks the innate characteristics needed to achieve those things and is therefore not entitled to them. Entitlement accrues to a person on the grounds of their success. In symbolic terms, the way to appeal to these people is in terms of opportunity, advantage, individuality, and the idea of just desserts for effort rendered.
On the other hand, the caricatured mitigationist (to coin the opposite term) grades society on its lower bound, by the extent to which the least successful members of the society are allowed to suffer by the more successful. They see the world as a dangerous, inhospitable place in which the default state is abject meanness, and humanity in negative terms of limiting those inhospitable forces, keeping out the cold and the hunger and the disease, while anything else is a bonus. Entitlement accrues to a person on the grounds of their humanity alone. The way to appeal to these people symbolically is in terms of compassion, brotherhood, sacrifice, cooperative achievement and that principle that none should suffer needlessly.

Emphasis added to identify the key symbolic points of the rhetoric around this budget, and highlight the fact that things are playing out exactly as you would expect. These battle lines were drawn long ago, and for all National’s “compassionate conservative” rebranding, there’s really nothing new in their focus here. They faced a clear choice between ambition and harm-mitigation, and chose according to their political identity. They simply don’t have a problem with the money proxy: it’s a measure as good as any other, and a nice clean “objective” one, because it’s determined by a market.

But I do. Following the first excerpt, I wrote:

This, to me, is not acceptable. If we cannot divorce the value of a person’s dignity, comfort and wellbeing from the monetary cost of sustaining it, what’s the purpose of society?

It’s bad in principle that people are treated (to a greater or lesser extent) as non-people by virtue of their material circumstances. And furthermore, I think it’s a bad decision in plain pragmatic utilitarian terms to attempt to swim against the economic tide and support ambition at the cost of significant harm:

Push comes to shove at times like this, when things are tight. When many people are deprived them, the human necessities of health, comfort and dignity can more readily be achieved by an idea of the common good than by the burning desire of ambition. [...] In good times it’s easy to emphasise the greater good because a reasonable minimum standard can be expected to exist or be trivially provided for the few who need it. None need suffer except by a relative standard. In hard times, however, when raw success is less achievable, mitigating harm at the temporary expense of ambition becomes more valuable by its easy achievement.

So what we have with the budget, judging by the pre-release hype, is simply a return to form for the National party, and it should be countered by a return to form by the Labour party as well. National are retreating from the middle ground which won them the election and repairing to their reflexive, reptilian-brain adherence to the money proxy as an iron law of society. Labour must reclaim this ground; not that it ever really ceded it, rather permitting an occupation which is now beginning to withdraw.

The underlying calculation is a tradeoff of societal harm against economic growth. Another way of putting it, in more resonant terms, is: how much of society are we prepared to cannibalise, and for what gains, accruing to whom? This is the question around which Labour should orient its response. The words “many” and “few” will fit neatly into it.

L

60 Responses to “Cannibalising society for the money proxy”

  1. Sagenz on May 19th, 2010 at 18:17

    Your depiction of National and believers in aspiration as being purely concerned with money as a measure is convenient, patronising, simplistic and utterly flawed. In any society status accrues in many ways. By your standard conservative politicians are only interested in money and should therefore not go into politics. Plainly untrue and you fail at the first hurdle. Those of us who believe in aspiration believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. If we all aspire and work harder we all do better. Through diligence, fortune and intelligence some will do better than others.

    The harm that Labour does is to pillory the successful and thus discourage aspiration. That is the most insidious problem of the bleeding heart. Not the care for those relatively less successful but the anti success mindset.
    The aspirational like Key realise that the less successful may need more assistance, which may explain his preparedness to enable Maori to aspire on their own terms through Whanau Ora.
    Reducing the tax on success goes a long way to promoting the aspirational tide.

    You call it unfair. I call it msunderstanding human nature. Aspirational values are not all money maximizing. Whether they be celebrating achievement in sport, academic research, educating our children to aspire or simply desiring a cleaner less criminal community, thepoint is to promote aspiration by each individual however successful rather than blame relative lack of success on “rich pricks”.

  2. Pablo on May 19th, 2010 at 18:39

    …their reflexive, reptilian-brain adherence to the money proxy as an iron law of society.

    My vote for the best political put-down of the year.

  3. Alexandra on May 19th, 2010 at 19:33

    I have nothing to add other than thanks for the post and I agree entirely.

  4. Lew on May 19th, 2010 at 20:10

    Phil, I refer to the two positions in my post as “caricatures”, and they are such. By taking them literally it’s you who’s mischaracterising my argument. I’m not saying that’s all there is. In fact, I explicitly say in the post above that there’s plenty more than just the focus on monetary success and aspiration, in common with Labour and others; but that as a matter of default, National and conservative or centre-right political movements weight in favour of ambition rather than in favour of harm-minimisation, and they do so by placing economic aspiration front-and-centre.

    At the risk of sounding like a dour Marxist for a moment, it’s easy to say society values someone as a human being, but if you deny them (tacitly or otherwise) full access to necessities such as decent housing, food and healthcare on account of the fact that they don’t have enough money, then it’s a bit hollow. This is essentially what society does when it favours the rich and ambition over the poor and harm-minimisation: trades the wellbeing of the one group off against the other, on the reasoning that if those people had any worth, they’d be rich enough to support themselves.

    As I argued in the original posts on the topic, ambition being front and centre is not always a bad thing. There’s not a shred of success-hating in the post; no criticism of aspiration in the general case. It is necessary, but it is a trade-off. In the case in point, which is an emphasis on tax cuts at the top to boost the economy, rather than at the bottom to mitigate against the harm caused by the recession, the opportunity cost is that people at the bottom miss out as a matter of certainty in exchange for the possibility of successful entrepreneurship and achievement caused by more money at the top. I accept that there are arguments there, I just don’t think they stack up. And the trade-off of the bottom for the top is one which society needs to judge for itself.

    But you neatly demonstrate my point by defending the centre-right’s supposedly broad aspirational focus, and its willingness to embrace non-monetary measures of value by defending just one policy initiative: tax cuts for the so-called “rich pricks”, whom I never even mentioned in the post. The notion that everything flows from that is precisely the sort of reptilian adherence to money-proxy market dogma I’m criticising.

    L

  5. Ag on May 19th, 2010 at 20:59

    Your depiction of National and believers in aspiration as being purely concerned with money as a measure is convenient, patronising, simplistic and utterly flawed.

    Whenever someone starts with a list like that you can tell they have no real argument.

    In any society status accrues in many ways. By your standard conservative politicians are only interested in money and should therefore not go into politics. Plainly untrue and you fail at the first hurdle. Those of us who believe in aspiration believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. If we all aspire and work harder we all do better. Through diligence, fortune and intelligence some will do better than others.

    “Aspiration” as it manifests itself in real life isn’t about bettering yourself in absolute terms, but in relative terms. It’s really just a trendy word for status seeking. Of course, there are two ways to gain or retain status. One is to work harder than other people, and the other is to make sure that the opposition can’t compete on a level playing field. Right wing governments tend to be uncaring of the difference.

    And the people who trot out this tired rubbish tend to be the type who has to be at the gym in 26 minutes. Please forgive the rest of us if we don’t want our society run according to the warped values of these terminal idiots, who for the most part exist by imitation.

  6. Phil Sage on May 19th, 2010 at 21:16

    Lew – you are an effective debater. Set the ground entirely on your own terms, however biased and then refuse to entertain the accusation of bias. I don’t accept your preference or your terms.

    That makes it very much more difficult to have sensible debate.

    You are the one referring to money and yet describe a defence in money terms as justifying your position. I refer to tax and whanau ora and you see only one policy defence. You are referring to money and I use the topical term “rich pricks”. That makes me wrong? No it makes me on topic with a reference to how you and those like you mischaracterise people in order to try to win your argument.

    I cannot see the point of continuing on those terms.

    Your caricature of National is simply wrong. The statist Labour with a constituency of those who are jealous and want to improve their own position at the expense of others is fair.

    A much more interesting discussion to have is how you raise and enable the aspirations of those at the low end. The union bruisers who forbid paying teachers of difficult subjects in poor schools more in the name of “fairness” do far more to harm the prospects of poor students than any single thing I can think of.

    The middle class students who demand interest free loans and low tuition fees from a limited pool of money for education in the name of “fairness” do far more to damage the cause of extending tertiary education to a wider base than those arguing for interest, market set fees with subsidy of economically desirable courses.

    The ideological cretins who insist on state supply of health at point of use kill people through rationing. Competition is healthy. Successful private sector suppliers will become wealthy and more people will be helped through more efficient supply of health.

    The Soviet bloc proved how corrupt and inefficient the state is so please spare me any platitudes about Cuban health systems and the cost of the American health system.

    If we can accept the view of National as aspirational then we can start to make progress. Don’t keep misdescribing their or my motives. One of the great things the new Conservative LIb government has done on their first day in parliament if to get rid of the state control enabling ID cards. Isn’t that wonderful?

  7. Phil Sage on May 19th, 2010 at 21:22

    Ag – I find your response to my comment pathetic. On the basis of your previous contributions I will take you seriously.
    I refer to a rising tide lifting all boats. That is the crux of my argument in defence of the approach of National vs Labour. If you genuinely see aspirational simply as a trendy word you have nothing to add.

  8. Phil Sage on May 19th, 2010 at 21:33

    At the risk of sounding like a dour Marxist for a moment, it’s easy to say society values someone as a human being, but if you deny them (tacitly or otherwise) full access to necessities such as decent housing, food and healthcare on account of the fact that they don’t have enough money, then it’s a bit hollow.

    When people describe any citizens of New Zealand as being lacking any of those I wonder whether they have ever travelled or been to any of the so called “slums” in New Zealand. Every time I drive through Glen Innes, Orakei or Otara I wonder how people consider their situation in the terms described above when you consider how most of the rest of the world lives. The reality is that of the arguing style of Lew and Ag. Never accept a realistic view but keep pushing the canard and hope that something sticks.

    I agree that certain South American countries and ideological Actoid’s would have no problem cutting any support for the poor but you have no idea of reality if you insist that New Zealand poor are not being provided with sufficient of the basics to live.

    What they lack is the things that bring self respect and status. Providing nothing for themselves, they have no self respect.

    That also is a far more interesting discussion to have. How do you avoid the inevitable relative decline of Western civilisation inherent in a growing welfare driven electorate that keeps asking for more and more whilst contributing less and less.

  9. Lew on May 19th, 2010 at 21:58

    Phil, you’re right — there is no point in continuing an argument about the differences between two political ideologies which share a very great deal in common but differ in policy emphasis with someone who resorts to ranting about socialism as if that’s somehow relevant. You’ll find some of the most trenchant criticism of socialism anywhere in the NZ left blogosphere with my name on them, and I get a lot of criticism for this. But I can understand why you’d prefer to argue against a socialist straw man: they’re so much easier to beat.

    I’m really not sure what you’re driving at in the last paragraph of that 21:16 comment. I do generally accept the view of National as aspirational; what I question is whether that’s a good thing. I’m not making a “looking after their rich mates” argument; I believe that they (and you) genuinely believe what you’re doing is broadly for the greater good. I’m just calling into question the quality of that judgement, not as a matter of cold reason or of economic policy, but a moral and ethical argument about what society should do.

    You’re free to argue that NZ’s poor aren’t really poor by comparison with the third world — but having done so, you cede all the “ambitious” and “aspirational” ground you might have held. Here’s a canard for you: I whimsically remarked recently that the hundreds of fat, friendly and entirely catchable ducks (and geese, and swans) at my local pond was an indicator that the recession wasn’t really that bad.* The response applies all the more forcefully to your scornful remarks about poverty in NZ: “As long as we keep comparing ourselves to the poorest, most brutal societies in the history of everything ever we’ll be fine.” My ambition, my aspiration, is for a society that’s better than that.

    But we can certainly agree about the demise of the UK National ID card. Not sure how this has anything to do with the topic at hand, but that’s a point I’ll grant you.

    L

    * You might call it the Urban Duck Gregariousness Prosperity Index. Cf. also the Chicken-Scooter-Stray Dog Index or Pablometer.

  10. Phil Sage on May 19th, 2010 at 22:13

    Lew – Thanks for that. Now we can develop. I would argue that far from ceding the aspirational ground by my comments I have firmly established it. You would be correct if I simply argued that we are better off than other country’s poor but that is not my point.

    If you agree that basic needs are met in New Zealand at present then we can cease the name calling about uncaring Nats and the need for Labour to hold power in order to ensure that basic needs are met. You seem to have ceded that argument in favour of a shared determination to identify the best measures to raise income, status and happiness. ( I had to throw the Randian happiness reference in ;^) )

    We can get on to productive discussion about what nuanced policy measures you can implement that will genuinely raise the ambition and status of those lowest on the socio economic ladder in New Zealand. The simplest way would simply be to try to argue that a Norwegian street cleaner can at least earn sufficient money to holiday in North Africa and feel superior to the people there. Therefore we should simply go for growth. But that is equally pointless.

    Having ceded the point about basic needs we must focus on which approach raises ambition and aspiration rather than which approach is better at redistribution. My bias there is obvious so lets move on to detailed discussion about what is the best approach to raising the status and thus self respect of the lower socio economic citizens.

    Even the youngest child is genetically programmed to try to do something for themselves. That is human nature. Increasing levels of and demands for higher levels of “welfare” sap that self respect and the will for people to do something for themselves. What point growing vegetables when the state will provide the money to buy them from a shop?.

    I will continue over the break but consider those thoughts if you are still online

  11. Phil Sage on May 19th, 2010 at 22:19

    The aim of ALL policy should be to work with human nature and promote the virtues of self reliance. Even a farmer in a poor village in Africa who provide for themselves through their hard work have more pride and self respect and happiness than someone in a western country with a far higher degree of material wealth who is reliant on state welfare.

    In the context of New Zealand it is thus pointless if not self defeating to try to argue that more welfare will bring happiness and self respect. Unless you destroy the whole economy and redistribute wealth in the name of “fairness” you will never achieve your aim of bringing self respect and happiness to all.

    Redistribution will not achieve the higher aims. That is the fundamental problem with the Labour approach in New Zealand. There is a great deal of very interesting literature emerging that argues Aid to Africa and poor nations corrupts. Loans, aid agencies and the corrupt elite all conspire to hold down the aspirational, let alone the lowest levels in poor societies.

  12. Phil Sage on May 19th, 2010 at 22:32

    I have just been having an argument with Matt Nolan over at TVHE on the subject of compulsory super. http://www.tvhe.co.nz/2010/05/18/compulsory-10-hours-of-unpaid-work/comment-page-1/#comment-25295
    I believe in compulsory super on the basis that long term happiness and economic independence will be increased through compulsory super. You are correct in arguing that having money makes life easier. I argue that Labour take the approach that keeping their constituency reliant on them by distributing largesse is about keeping power rather than genuine concern for peoples long term welfare.

    That is the basis for some of the literature about the corrosive effects of aid.

  13. Lew on May 19th, 2010 at 22:58

    Phil, again — I don’t think there’s much point. You quite simply have me wrong.

    One, I was never arguing for the need for Labour to remain in power in NZ to ensure the poor have their needs met. If you’ve read anything of mine at all you’d know I consider Labour to be undeserving of government at this point, regardless of whether they might be “better” on some policy axis. I haven’t ceded anything; that was just never what I was arguing.

    Two, the dichotomy between “aspiration” and “redistribution” is false, because I’m not arguing for redistribution (though I am arguing against a society subsidising its top end). If I’m making a policy argument at all it’s for harm-mitigation, which is a different thing. It might involve redistribution but needn’t necessarily. But really, I’m not making a policy argument — I’m making a normative argument.

    Three, you’ve gotten sidetracked by issues of welfare, and pride in one’s self-reliance, which weren’t even remotely like the topic of the post. But they do prove my point: You say of the subsistence farmer “he is poor, but he has his pride”; but the money proxy still holds. All the pride in the world won’t save him if his house falls down, his crop fails, or his kid gets sick, and his material inability to cope with those things demeans him.

    Because of the way the ability to earn money is abstracted out to other characteristics (the virtues of self-reliance, ambition, self-respect, will to action, and so on which you describe), the failure to do the one is taken as evidence of a lack in the other, so he is a failure not only as a farmer, but as a person. So the logical justification from the right for failing to mitigate harm to the subsistence farmer whose kid gets sick is not so much “if he were a better farmer, he would have enough money to pay for treatment” (which doesn’t necessarily hold in any case) as it is “because he doesn’t have enough money for treatment he is not a worthy person“. That’s what I object to. I am happy for a bad farmer to be criticised as a bad farmer if that is the case; but not for him to be discounted as someone unworthy of being accorded basic levels of comfort and dignity by society. Rather, I want a society where the provision of those levels of comfort and dignity are expected and provided. Just what those levels are is of course a matter for debate.

    Four, this line of argument regarding Labour is as simplistic and reductionist a theory as the one in which national does nothing but to keep their rich mates in Bentleys and Bollinger. My argument proceeds from the premise that neither party is simply corrupt and self-serving, that both have the general interests of society at heart, even if they differ about what they are or how to achieve them. If it were otherwise there would be no need for the argument, the choice would be trivial.

    L

  14. Phil Sage on May 19th, 2010 at 23:11

    The underlying calculation is a tradeoff of societal harm against economic growth. Another way of putting it, in more resonant terms, is: how much of society are we prepared to cannibalise, and for what gains, accruing to whom? This is the question around which Labour should orient its response. The words “many” and “few” will fit neatly into it.

    Your preferences are very clearly laid out there in your suggested Labour response. Promote the same old canards.

    This, to me, is not acceptable. If we cannot divorce the value of a person’s dignity, comfort and wellbeing from the monetary cost of sustaining it, what’s the purpose of society?

    I have set out my stall above. You have ceded two of the three points you make above: comfort and wellbeing, even in these times of economic downturn are adequately provided for. We should agree to focus on the promotion of human dignity. The purpose of politics in current New Zealand society is to further promote human dignity.

    Would you agree that self reliance does more to further human dignity than state redistribution?

  15. Lew on May 19th, 2010 at 23:21

    Sigh. Phil, If you think I’m a Labour partisan, I suggest you read my blog.

    As to the three points; I haven’t conceded any of them. Third, politics is about “human dignity” as much as it is about “economic growth: it is about that, but it’s about a lot of other things as well. Second, human dignity, and its reduction in the examples I give, is a consequence of peoples’ earning power being conflated with their value as a person. I’m not saying we should focus on its promotion; I’m saying we should decouple the two things if we value human dignity as a society — since a failure in one quite manifestly does not betoken a failure in the other. First, I have most certainly not conceded that comfort and wellbeing are adequately provided for, except by the third-world standard of the Urban Duck Gregariousness Prosperity Index. I think it’s an arguable proposition, but regardless: the purpose of the post was not to argue at what specific tax rate or what level of provision it suddenly becomes all right, but to discuss the principles.

    Anyway, that’ll be me for a while — I’m under a very stiff deadline for the next few days, and will be avoiding the internets like a plague, for fear of getting into arguments like this one :)

    I’ll check back next week; have at it while I’m gone.

    L

  16. Phil Sage on May 19th, 2010 at 23:25

    Because of the way the ability to earn money is abstracted out to other characteristics (the virtues of self-reliance, ambition, self-respect, will to action, and so on which you describe), the failure to do the one is taken as evidence of a lack in the other, so he is a failure not only as a farmer, but as a person.

    You try to put those words in my mouth. I don’t accept your premise that money is abstracted out. Those characteristics are intrinsic in the greater happiness of the self reliant African farmer over the welfare dependent Glen Innes dweller

    So the logical justification from the right for failing to mitigate harm to the subsistence farmer whose kid gets sick is not so much “if he were a better farmer, he would have enough money to pay for treatment” (which doesn’t necessarily hold in any case) as it is “because he doesn’t have enough money for treatment he is not a worthy person“. That’s what I object to.

    You should read Epictetus and the virtues of the stoics. It is certainly not the lack of money that people like me do not respect. It is the lack of recognition that people have responsibility for their own happiness and dignity whatever their situation.

    Labour supporters and their ilk despise successful people, demand money in the form of redistributive taxes, then have the gall to try to force others to bend to their will. They demand respect for that.

    My point is that no amount of redistribution of money will provide self respect and dignity.

  17. Phil Sage on May 19th, 2010 at 23:34

    You make the point about mitigation of harm. To me the definition of “harm” is the issue. Welfare without responsibility is as corrosive if it comes from the state as it does to the third generation inheritor of a trust fund. It is manna from heaven and does not bring dignity and happiness.

    Accept that and you can get to the crux of raising the dignity of those whose talents and luck have them currently toward the bottom of any socio economic ladder.

    The alternatives are
    1) A recognition that inter-generational welfare and the associated societal ills are here to stay.
    2) Increase redistribution and you break the golden goose by going soviet.
    3) Go South America, pay no social welfare and embed extreme inequality in society
    4) Recognise that once comfort and wellbeing are provided (as with NZ) a new paradigm is required to deal with raising the dignity and self respect of individuals in society who are unable to obtain that on their own.

  18. Ag on May 20th, 2010 at 00:23

    Ag – I find your response to my comment pathetic. On the basis of your previous contributions I will take you seriously.
    I refer to a rising tide lifting all boats. That is the crux of my argument in defence of the approach of National vs Labour.

    I mock it because I think it is a patently ridiculous argument, and I am surprised you believe it. The “trickle down” effect was long ago proven to be a myth, and aspiration is socially poisonous.

    As I noted above, “aspiration” more or less describes competitive consumption. An “aspirational good” to use the marketers’ term is a status good. What people aspire to is the status that these goods confer, which only works if there are winners and losers. Teenage trends work this way, but adult behaviour is little different.

    Now I’m assuming that you know that competitive consumption takes the same form as an arms race. Everyone knows the example of the dentists one of whom buys a BMW, so the other buys a Porsche, so the other buys a Maserati, so the other buys a Ferrari, and so on. In the end both of the dentists lose a great deal because they spend a fortune on the “arms race”. Aspirational goods are like that. Now think of the productive capacity wasted making competitive consumption goods that could be used on things that actually improve the general welfare. Competitive consumption goods are nuisance goods.

    The sheer waste to society from competitive consumption is staggering. People replace clothes that aren’t worn out, trash perfectly functional appliances, and in general buy a whole lot of crap that they don’t need. Why do you think people are working such ridiculous hours these days? It’s to pay for this. It’s insane, yet nobody can stop because they are caught in a collective action problem.

    It stands to reason that the vast majority of people would be better off if the competition could be called off, because only a small portion of the population can ever “win”, and everyone else just ends up wasting their labour and still losing. It’s not the majority of people who are causing the problem, it is the “aspirational” people who want to be better than everyone else, who are primarily responsible for keeping it going.

    “Aspiration” does not result in a rising tide lifting all boats. What it results in is competitive consumption, which means vast amounts of labour expended for no gain to the majority of the population. Imagine the health care system we could have, or the number of cops we could have on the beat, or the day off a week we could have, if less money was wasted on competitive consumption. The tide that rises is a tide of nuisance goods. Sure, everyone can now afford to buy more consumer goods to compete, but they are worse off because they are wasting large portions of their income.

    Aspirational people are not a social boon. They are a social nuisance, and ought to be seen as such. This is why a luxury tax is a fundamentally good idea. We want to make it harder for people to competitively consume, not easier.

    In addition, we simply do not need tax cuts in New Zealand. We do not pay enough tax as it is, which has resulted in substandard public services, despite the often heroic efforts of the people who work in them. We simply get more bang for our buck out of collective spending, because private surpluses are inevitably spent on competitive consumption.

    If people don’t like it, they can leave. I, for one, don’t want them here.

  19. Ag on May 20th, 2010 at 00:32

    The ideological cretins who insist on state supply of health at point of use kill people through rationing. Competition is healthy. Successful private sector suppliers will become wealthy and more people will be helped through more efficient supply of health.

    Oh BS. Canada has a public health system and spends less as a percentage of GDP on health care than the US does. Canada manages to spend less and insure every single Canadian, whereas the US can’t even insure every American. And to top all that, Canadians are, on average, healthier than Americans, despite living almost the same lifestyle and eating the same foods.

    It takes a peculiar kind of obstinacy to pretend that things are otherwise.

    Anyone who does not understand that market failure is endemic in modern societies and that state involvement is the most efficient solution really has no place in arguing about contemporary politics. I’m sorry you just don’t, because, if you don’t understand that, then you simply do not understand why our societies are the way they are. Attempts to introduce the market mechanism into areas subject to market failure just condemn us to inefficiencies. The private sector has its place, but the public sector is clearly superior at providing health care and education. The political right are nothing more than saboteurs of the public welfare.

  20. Ag on May 20th, 2010 at 00:34

    In the context of New Zealand it is thus pointless if not self defeating to try to argue that more welfare will bring happiness and self respect. Unless you destroy the whole economy and redistribute wealth in the name of “fairness” you will never achieve your aim of bringing self respect and happiness to all.

    Until you realize that the welfare state doesn’t really have much to do with fairness, you will have nothing to contribute to political debate.

    WE DO NOT HAVE A WELFARE STATE TO PROMOTE FAIRNESS. THAT IS NOT ITS PRIMARY OBJECTIVE.

    I’m sorry, that is just the way it is. You literally do not know what you are talking about.

  21. Ag on May 20th, 2010 at 00:50

    Would you agree that self reliance does more to further human dignity than state redistribution?

    I do not see why you complain about redistribution. Insurance companies redistribute all the time. The welfare state is largely a form of insurance.

    But your argument has a fatal flaw. You assume that a market distributes goods fairly or according to merit. There is no reason to believe this, and so there is no reason to believe that one’s position in the market in any way tracks one’s moral virtue or dignity. Case in point, the wage I am paid depends on (among other things) how many others are offering the same service. This is beyond my control and so ought to be irrelevant to a moral appraisal of my life. Generalized, that point means that to assume redistribution necessarily compromises my dignity is false (for example it may restore it, if I am paid what I am owed).

    You should read Epictetus and the virtues of the stoics. It is certainly not the lack of money that people like me do not respect. It is the lack of recognition that people have responsibility for their own happiness and dignity whatever their situation.

    Perhaps you should read Epictetus again. Do you understand Stoicism at all? I’ll freely admit that my knowledge of it rests mostly on the fragmentary evidence of the early Stoa (in particular Chrysippus, the greatest of Stoics), which I once wrote a paper on, but your views seem to have little to do with it.

    Greek philosophy in general would take a very dim view of aspirational politics and the National Party. This borrowing of Epictetus strikes me as a bit like the capitalist borrowing of Nietzsche… a bit off.

  22. Phil Sage on May 20th, 2010 at 00:52

    Ag – you are stuck in the pointless present with the additional impediment of having a simple consumerist definition of aspiration. I use the word but in a completely different context. One of the wonderful things about English is that the same words can be used in many different contexts. Perhaps you should also learn about synonyms. For “fairness” for example.

    Then you would not continue to make such patently ridiculous statements as you have just made.

  23. Phil Sage on May 20th, 2010 at 00:58

    Ag – I don’t assume that markets distribute goods fairly. The banking crisis demonstrates the fundamental flaws of the efficient market hypothesis.

    If you are doing a job for which you are not paid enough to warrant your own view of your perceived status why not change jobs. I know a primary headteacher in Eastern Europe who is paid little but sneers at his father in law who runs a successful business and has provided him with car, house and ongoing food because he is unable to provide for himself. The least he could do, imho, is to respect the contribution rather than sneer. I trust you are not in the same situation.

  24. Phil Sage on May 20th, 2010 at 01:05

    Ag – On health I understand your cynicism. I am certainly not proposing unrestrained privatisation in some blissful ideological misbelief that the market will provide. There are very cycnical corporates controlled by people whose interests are not in aspirations of the greatest good but simply feathering their own nests.

    There is however a path that is worth developing that goes away from the stunted Clark Labour ideology that there should be no private involvement in the private sector.

    Our mutual sneering adds nothing to the sum of human knowledge in what could develop into a useful thread.

    Look a little further at what I actually wrote and dont assume I subscribe to the ideological actoid view. I don’t subscribe to all National policy either but certainly prefer it to Labour.

    The Australian market democrat Craig Emerson probably best represents my views but even that is limited in some areas
    http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=528108025394193;res=IELHSS

  25. Ag on May 20th, 2010 at 16:30

    Ag – you are stuck in the pointless present with the additional impediment of having a simple consumerist definition of aspiration. I use the word but in a completely different context. One of the wonderful things about English is that the same words can be used in many different contexts. Perhaps you should also learn about synonyms. For “fairness” for example.

    So you don’t have an argument to come back with then?

    Typical.

    When politicians and marketers talk about aspiration, they mean roughly what I mean, or something more or less reducible to it. There’s an interesting article in last month’s London Review of Books about it, which describes it thus:

    “To those who can use the word ‘aspirational’ without wincing, this might seem high praise. It connotes endeavour, making something of oneself, trying – as an older idiom had it – to improve one’s station in life. Glossed in this way, the term might seem blameless, a near universal human disposition, but in the past few years ‘aspirational’ has been used to pick out something more specific, something symptomatic of a particular moment in the development of social attitudes in Britain. There is now, according to some commentators, an ‘aspirational class’, rather uncertainly located within a traditional hierarchical social structure, but composed of people who probably had working-class parents, who hope to have professional or managerial-class children, and who want more of ‘the good things of life’. But they want, it is said, to attain these goals without taking on the trappings and snobberies that historically went along with moving into a higher social class. An edge of ressentiment lurks under ‘aspiration’, not the old ‘Jack’s as good as his master’ kind, which acknowledged social position while claiming it was not the whole of life, but a more relativist kind, confident that ‘no one has the right to say what someone else ought to do or think.’ Any other view of the matter is damned as ‘elitist’. As these attitudes assert and impose themselves, we are encouraged to talk not merely of an aspirational class but of an ‘aspirational society’ at once insistently egalitarian and aggressively competitive.”

    The last sentence is the instructive one.

  26. Ag on May 20th, 2010 at 16:35

    Look a little further at what I actually wrote and dont assume I subscribe to the ideological actoid view. I don’t subscribe to all National policy either but certainly prefer it to Labour.

    The assumption I make is that you don’t know why we have a welfare state. You have said nothing to indicate that you do.

    There is a very obvious reason why the state gets involved in the economy, and it has nothing much to do with equality or any particularly left wing view.

    Market democracy is so comically silly that it will need another post.

  27. Pablo on May 20th, 2010 at 22:45

    Lew:

    It strikes me that you have identified another pernicious aspect of monetarism.

    In the heyday of industrial capitalism in the West, upon meeting strangers the opening remark was often “what do you do?” The implication, and purpose of the question, was to locate the stranger in the class hierarchy based upon their spatial location in production, which in turn presumed certain skill levels. Thus, an answer of “builder,” “farmer,” “engineer,” “lawyer,” “doctor,” “general” or “professor” elicited class respect because it implied superior, if narrow discipline, dedication and knowledge that generated longer-term and broader social benefits than, say, ditch digging or holding a stop sign for the roadworks crew, regardless of the monetary compensation of the titled individual. That is to say, in the old capitalist class hierarchy it did not matter if a ditch digger or septic tan cleaner made millions–the basis for respect was not on their worth but on their job (there is much to debate with this view of relative productive and contributory worth, but that must be left for anther time).

    Nowadays the measure of respect is not taken from one’s location in production or value added to the societal endeavour based upon impartible skills, but on net worth. It matters less what one’s occupation is than it does how much they earn (regardless of how) an how much they spend/consume. The classic case is Snoop Doggy Dog– a virtually illiterate vicious cur of a gang associate, misogynist pornographer ( I have no problem with his prodigious penchant for pot) who has now become a respected American mainstream entertainment “entrepeneuer” (the new buzz word of the money grubbing set)–but at least he has contributed some sort of limited value to the aggregate with his rapping enterprise.

    The same can only said with difficulty about the crowd the John Key made his name with: money speculators (which of course overlaps with money launderers, price-fixers and other insider financial players). These type of people–think some of the big financial names in the news as of late–are about as close to lumpenproletarians as the rich can be. Yet they are venerated by the corporate media and protected by their political allies because they have MUCH DISPOSABLE INCOME. Both materially and in terms of (quickly converted) liguidity, they are the champions of this economic age. The question is: do they contribute to production or social value in the same measure that they are compensated? If not, are they not then a drain on society?

    A student once told me that the “trickle down” theory of economic distribution was actually the “piss on us” theory: the rich consume the best of society and excrete the urea for the masses to consume. That, in a nutshell, is the Key/National approach to distributional politics.

    In any event, I appreciate the post because it reminded me of the production/worth ideological shift in capitalism over the last two decades, and why the old capitalist notion of contributing to society (while profiting from it) has been replaced by the belief that monetary worth alone has intrinsic value, and social contribution or production-value is limited to the retail point of purchase.

  28. Phil Sage on May 20th, 2010 at 23:14

    Pablo – There is a great deal more money in the world and it is distributed far more widely than at any time in history. There are a great deal many more trades than in history. To complain about that is to be grumpy old men and simply miss the point of where our civilisation has brought us to. I take issue with your disdain for entrepreneurs. They are genuine risk takers who promote human progress. I am sure you would not disdain Marco Polo and entrepreneurship today carries on that thread.

    To me there is a fundamental difference between individuals making a choice to pay Snoop Dogg for his music, however disturbing I may find it and the system of bankers and financial services clipping the ticket of wealth as it passes through their institution’s hands. The raid on pension funds and savings is morally akin to oil corruption in underdeveloped countries. Snoop Dogg is a successful entrepreneur. The bankers who do not risk their own capital, but clip the ticket and then spend a small fraction of the proceeds on bottles of Cristal should be the true targets of our opprobrium.

    People like Soros and Buffett risk their own and other peoples money to reap a benefit as entrepreneurs. They are closer to the Snoop Dogg’s who use their talents and risk public disdain through performance.

    Mick Jagger demonstrates that there is a huge difference between the conspicuous income and the conspicuous consumption. He is careful with his money and has accumulated a great deal over a long career. That seems worthy of respect.

    And yet the boundaries between respect for judgement and corrupt ticket clipping are easily blurred. Is the judgement to trust the likes of John Key with a sum of money that he was able to increase in a game of currency trading through his raw skill and own judgement worth a decent reward for the person who trusted Key with that money as well as the reward to Key for his judgement?

    Distinguishing the reward for judgement from the ticket clipping is the trickiest task facing those who would restructure the global financial system.

    Steve Jobs is an entrepreneur who has brought some brilliant innovation in design. Products that allowed me to use desktop computers in a far more intuitive way and now the iphone which allows me to take music, internet and communication with me in my pocket wherever I go.

    Why do the entrepreneurs warrant your disdain? Their widespread existence and media respect is simply the logical result of this part of human civilisation.

  29. SPC on May 21st, 2010 at 02:17

    Any society (our social democracy) which encourages people to show their aspiration by giving up any concept of solidarity with others, to get ahead for themselves, is ultimately “cannibalising itself”.

    It reminds me a once great “society” called Minoan, which after the Hittite empire declined chose the quick and easy option of piracy – cannibalising the remnant of the imperial civlisation peace.

    Many an economic reform simply involves the capture and ruin of something of value for profit – including extracting wealth out of banks in bonuses in the good times and passing the cost to shareholders (and or taxpayers) later or creating investor fund sourced profits from finance companies before the pyramid collapses in on itself. That the same approach now guides reform of the public sector – to extract money for tax cuts is of course the ultimate sacrifice of the historic sovereign wealth of the nation.

    If that is the ultimate end-game of a capitalist order then the post Soviet Union Russia went through that back in the 1990′s and we can learn from them
    that the aftermath is not really a democratic one but a sham one that denies civil liberties – a bit like Clegg’s view of the centralised UK. This involves the attempt to recapture lost sovereign wealth via selective taxation on a wealthy elite of oligarchs – banks or oil/gas/minerals tsars (Oz?).

    Of course here we face gutting the public sector to afford on-going tax cuts – which transfer funds to the wealthy few to buy up public assets when the remnant come up for sale.

  30. Phil Sage on May 21st, 2010 at 02:32

    SPC – That is certainly not the objective of the centre right in New Zealand or the UK that I am aware of.

    Many an economic reform simply involves the capture and ruin of something of value for profit – including extracting wealth out of banks in bonuses in the good times and passing the cost to shareholders (and or taxpayers) later or creating investor fund sourced profits from finance companies before the pyramid collapses in on itself. That the same approach now guides reform of the public sector – to extract money for tax cuts is of course the ultimate sacrifice of the historic sovereign wealth of the nation.

    In New Zealand there is so little sovereign wealth that the pernicious effect of welfare without responsibility will have a much quicker impact of taking New Zealand towards the bankrupt financial and community bereft of any sense responsibility of Greece as described so brilliantly by Pablo in the last of his recent series.

    The Clark and Brown governments have done a lot to embed welfare at a higher level than is sustainable financially or socially.

    You seek to make a valid point, the public sector should not be pillaged for the benefit of a few. There is however a big difference between a Russian oil sector bought for pennies with money borrowed from the company itself and privatisation at fair value where the funds flow back into Treasury to benefit citizens.

    Lew conceded that NZ citizens needs for comfort and wellbeing are being met to some degree, if not sufficient for his satisfaction.

    Do you really believe that New Zealand is being pillaged, particularly in light of the budget announcements that close loopholes and offer a wide spread tax cut whilst rebalancing the tax system to promote saving at the expense of current consumption?

  31. Phil Sage on May 21st, 2010 at 02:50

    Ag – I did not intend to respond to any of your points but seeing as there is an interesting debate continuing in the absence of Lew I will address your substantive point.

    I will gaily use the word aspiration in whatever way I damn well please. Providing the meaning can be understood from its context it is pointless to spend endless amounts of time arguing semantics. I do not accept attempts to frame the discussion on your terms.

    “To those who can use the word ‘aspirational’ without wincing, this might seem high praise. It connotes endeavour, making something of oneself, trying – as an older idiom had it – to improve one’s station in life. Glossed in this way, the term might seem blameless, a near universal human disposition, but in the past few years ‘aspirational’ has been used to pick out something more specific, something symptomatic of a particular moment in the development of social attitudes in Britain. There is now, according to some commentators, an ‘aspirational class’, rather uncertainly located within a traditional hierarchical social structure, but composed of people who probably had working-class parents, who hope to have professional or managerial-class children, and who want more of ‘the good things of life’. But they want, it is said, to attain these goals without taking on the trappings and snobberies that historically went along with moving into a higher social class. An edge of ressentiment lurks under ‘aspiration’, not the old ‘Jack’s as good as his master’ kind, which acknowledged social position while claiming it was not the whole of life, but a more relativist kind, confident that ‘no one has the right to say what someone else ought to do or think.’ Any other view of the matter is damned as ‘elitist’. As these attitudes assert and impose themselves, we are encouraged to talk not merely of an aspirational class but of an ‘aspirational society’ at once insistently egalitarian and aggressively competitive.”

    For decades there have been attempts at various levels to discourage competition with pejorative attitudes, from “Communist” Soviet Union to teachers banning winners and losers.

    That does not change human nature and genetic programming. The use of the emotive “aggressively” in your direction of my attention to the last sentence above is simply another example of that. I assume you do not quibble with egalitarian. Competition is the reality of life. If you don’t believe competition exists throughout society then you deny human nature.

    Take out the emotive from that quote and tell me what you find wrong with it in a healthy humanity that is striving for progress, whether in new forms of art, understanding or science?

    Why should I define “welfare” for you? Simply another attempt to dominate the debate with pedantry without offering anything yourself.

    Your dismissal of market democracy without any substantive comment is a further example that reflects more on a tiresome debating style that I don’t really have the time or inclination to bother with.

    There is no point bothering with commentary at Kiwiblog or The Standard because it is such a childish level of pedantic back and forth. Address the substantive points of an argument rather than nit pick on irrelevancies and hopefully here at Kiwipolitico we can all learn something.

  32. SPC on May 21st, 2010 at 02:52

    The attempt to extract money from the banking industry in the UK is multi-partisan – supported by Labour, Tories and Lib-Dems. Why is this, if not because of a perception that the sovereign wealth of the nation has been ripped off. Similarly in Oz with the mining tax – these things do not occur without such a perception.

    As for your conflation of sovereign wealth of a nation with welfarism – and I suppose you mean tax credits for families – just a form of delivery over tax cuts, but despised by the neo-right because it involves providing for the well-being of others – which is anathema in their new order. Or is that saving for tax paid Super? Or you regard tertiary student funding as welfare rather than investment?

    Interesting, you immediately indicate that so long as the public assets are sold for fair value, then thats not the loss of sovereign wealth (do you think Telecom was sold at fair value at $4B?). Ever tried to borrow money while not owning any assets, is any country unable to borrow against anything but their tax revenue truly sovereign?

  33. Phil Sage on May 21st, 2010 at 09:01

    SPC – Big difference between bankers in UK and miners in Oz. I agree with you on bankers. In oz the miners negotiated in good faith with government as to level of royalty and invested on that basis. Government changed the rules on them after prices rose. I have no sympathy, they should have negotiated a better royalty system that was tied to commodity prices in the first place.

    We are in agreement about the need to build sovereign wealth. I have many times been in the position of no assets. We can argue about whether Telecom was sold at fair value but it is not relevant to the current situation. To me the far scarier prospect is the Crafar farms being sold to the Chinese in something akin to all the African agricultural land being sold off. Being in that position indicates the true end of sovereignty and the indication that decades of overspending and undersaving turn New Zealand into little more than a nation of tenant farmers and theme park attendants. It is that prospect that makes me so adamant we should cease borrowing for consumption in an over generous welfare state.

  34. Bruce Hamilton on May 21st, 2010 at 10:57

    Doesn’t welfare exist to ensure there are sufficient “Haves” to outnumber “Have Nots’?. That balance tends to prevent alternative solutions, often terminal, such as revolution.

    I’ve not seen much evidence that many of 2010′s “Haves” want all the “Have Nots” to achieve – rather than aspire or expire. The “Haves” do seem to like ensuring there aren’t too many ladders for “Have Nots” to climb and compete for resources.

    Too simple?. Yes, but then, so am I.

  35. Pablo on May 21st, 2010 at 15:20

    Phil S:

    I put quotes around the word “entrepeneur” to distinguish the parasites from the producers. I agree that people who risk their own capital to pursue commercial ventures are properly classified as entrepeneurs (even if there ventures do not necessarily increase the productive wealth of society), but was referring to those, like the Hanover bosses, who ventured little of their own, pocketed more than their share, ignored–in fact denied and hid–the risks, and then ran for cover while leaving their investors hung out to dry. That the two main culprits have chosen to live overseas rather than face the music back at home pretty much sums up their character and approach–greedy, opportunistic and cowardly.

    The fact that the PM was drawn from and has extensive ties to the community in which they circulate says much about his approach to economic policy, which in turn is derived from the type of monetarist views that I mentioned at the onset of my previous comment.

  36. DeepRed on May 21st, 2010 at 17:18

    I’ve not seen much evidence that many of 2010’s “Haves” want all the “Have Nots” to achieve – rather than aspire or expire. The “Haves” do seem to like ensuring there aren’t too many ladders for “Have Nots” to climb and compete for resources.

    Sounds like the old British class system by another name. The only difference is that the lords and barons have been replaced by CEOs and chairpeople.

  37. Phil Sage on May 21st, 2010 at 23:06

    Pablo – Thanks for that clarification, I was a little surprised at the pejorative but just my confusion.

    Ag – You refer to Canadian health as a good example.
    I said

    The ideological cretins who insist on state supply of health at point of use kill people through rationing.

    Note clearly “state supply at point of use” – nothing about funding methods but about who supplies the service.

    You responded with

    Oh BS. Canada has a public health system and spends less as a percentage of GDP on health care than the US does. Canada manages to spend less and insure every single Canadian, whereas the US can’t even insure every American. And to top all that, Canadians are, on average, healthier than Americans, despite living almost the same lifestyle and eating the same foods.

    I just had the time to look at wiki comments about the Canadian health service.
    I quote “Canada has a publicly funded medicare system, with most services provided by the private sector.”
    “In 2009, the government funded about 70% of Canadians’ health care costs.”

    Making you support my point exactly. The Clark government refused to consider private provision of health at the point of supply for ideological reasons.

  38. Ag on May 21st, 2010 at 23:07

    I will gaily use the word aspiration in whatever way I damn well please. Providing the meaning can be understood from its context it is pointless to spend endless amounts of time arguing semantics. I do not accept attempts to frame the discussion on your terms.

    Actually you can’t use a word in any way you please and expect other people to understand you.

    They aren’t my terms. It isn’t my fault that you didn’t understand how the term “aspiration” functions in contemporary political debate. If you want it to mean something else, like generic ambition, then your entire argument is pointless, since ambition will include both that which serves to benefit society via the invisible hand, and the competitive consumption mentioned by me. Hence my argument still demands an answer.

    I still have seen no evidence that you actually understand why we have welfare, so you’re just digging yourself a hole here.

  39. Ag on May 21st, 2010 at 23:22

    That does not change human nature and genetic programming. The use of the emotive “aggressively” in your direction of my attention to the last sentence above is simply another example of that. I assume you do not quibble with egalitarian. Competition is the reality of life. If you don’t believe competition exists throughout society then you deny human nature.

    So called “human nature” is a poor block to build a society upon. In fact, modern society is a continual attempt to overcome deficiencies our human nature poses for our way of life, as is the education system.

    The point of encouraging certain forms of competition is to secure what management types call win-win outcomes. That’s essentially Smith’s argument for markets. However, many forms of competition are self-defeating for the majority of competitors. Competitive consumption is, as were Native American potlaches, since vast amounts of resources are devoted to a contest that most people get little out of.

    But I’ve explained this already in an earlier post.

    Take out the emotive from that quote and tell me what you find wrong with it in a healthy humanity that is striving for progress, whether in new forms of art, understanding or science?

    I don’t think you understand my argument. Some ambition is good, and brings benefits to all. Some is bad and a scourge on society. Most people would be better off if expressions of the bad kind were restricted.

    Why should I define “welfare” for you? Simply another attempt to dominate the debate with pedantry without offering anything yourself.

    I didn’t ask you to define welfare. I asked you why we have a welfare state. It’s a simple question, and one that anyone pontificating about the welfare state has to be able to answer in order to be taken seriously.

    You are the one harping on about welfare dependency and Labour, and it makes it look like you have no idea of what welfare is for. If you do know, then why can’t you tell us? Is it such a difficult question to answer?

    Your dismissal of market democracy without any substantive comment is a further example that reflects more on a tiresome debating style that I don’t really have the time or inclination to bother with.

    I said I didn’t have time to make such comment. It’s a long paper, and must wait until I have time to create a proper answer.

    I’m asking you simple questions that you continually refuse to answer. I guess you don’t have the time or inclination to bother with those.

  40. Ag on May 21st, 2010 at 23:41

    Making you support my point exactly. The Clark government refused to consider private provision of health at the point of supply for ideological reasons.

    You forget that I’ve lived in Canada. I have used the Canadian health service. I know perfectly well how it works.

    The Canadian scheme is the way it is in part because of Canadian Federalism. Each province has its own scheme (e.g Ontario has OHIP), but the insurance is portable between provinces. There are also price controls and the provincial government will periodically bargain with medical providers to set prices. Note also that two tier healthcare is more or less banned in most parts of Canada (it has been some years since I left, and things may have changed), so the private tier of NZ health care would mostly go if NZ were to adopt the Canadian system.

    It’s much easier to federally mandate insurance coverage than it is to mandate 10 separate NHS like systems. Trying to get the Canadian provinces (in particular Quebec and Alberta) to agree on anything at all is often difficult.

    New Zealand doesn’t have anywhere near this level of political complexity to deal with. There’s no straight up reason to think that the Canadian system would work for us, or that Labour opposed this for ideological reasons. Full privatization of health care provision does not seem to be on the political radar in New Zealand, and that suggests to me that the costs would be too great.

  41. Phil Sage on May 21st, 2010 at 23:43

    So called “human nature” is a poor block to build a society upon.

    Thats really quite funny. Fortunately artificial life has just been created so you can defer reality and build society on your preferred artificial constructs instead.

  42. Phil Sage on May 21st, 2010 at 23:46

    Ag – on Health, you are attacking a straw man. I have no quibble with Canada, it looks to have a sensible health system. You seem to forget, Clark’s government was opposed to the private supply of health services even using public funding. They wanted it all supplied by the public sector. That was my quite minor point.

  43. Phil Sage on May 21st, 2010 at 23:55

    I didn’t ask you to define welfare. I asked you why we have a welfare state. It’s a simple question, and one that anyone pontificating about the welfare state has to be able to answer in order to be taken seriously.

    I have addressed your substantive points, why don’t you try the same instead of disappearing down foxholes.
    Nevertheless in answer to your question I give you a quote.

    The laws and conditions of the production of wealth partake of the character of physical truths. There is nothing optional or arbitrary in them … It is not so with the Distribution of Wealth. That is a matter of human institution solely. The things once there, mankind, individually or collectively, can do with them as they like.
    — John Stuart Mill

  44. Phil Sage on May 22nd, 2010 at 00:28

    Lew – Your deadline may have passed (and I hope met) over the weekend and hopefully you come back to follow up. Your absence having given me time to mull over your points.

    Firstly my apology for being snippy with you about debating style. I was unfairly lumping you in while irritated. You make interesting points that deserve to be addressed.

    It is fair to say caricature National as ambitionists and Labour as harm mitigators but I think the way you describe ambitionists is where we diverge.

    I hoped we could agree (possibly only by caricature) that the welfare system in New Zealand provides for comfort (housing & utilities) and wellbeing (free health, food and a limited income). As long as you dont rebut that premise entirely, but rather on the margins, we can put that aside, perhaps unresolved, but not the point to discuss here.

    Then we can direct our attention to the third leg of dignity. This is where it is much simpler for the harm mitigator to argue that more welfare provides more dignity. I would agree that it does, but only for a short period and only in the short term. Long term entitlement without responsibility is morally corrosive. Ensuring that someone accustomed to a home, food, utilities is not cast immediately on the street when they lose their income, is a fair egalitarian aspiration for a civilised society. The provision of short term welfare provides dignity.

    However, when that welfare is a longer term substitute for the responsibility inherent in earning an income the indignity of being unable to provide for oneself or ones family corrodes that dignity. That is at the core of our social ills. It will not be solved by throwing more money at those people. And the reality is that it also will not be solved simply by time limiting welfare , reducing the minimum wage and forcing those people into low end poverty level jobs.

    I was in Romania last summer and met some members of a local cultural dance troupe. They were agricultural workers but very well informed and articulate. Their dignity and feeling of self worth was not tied to their income but to their cultural heritage. They did not envy the consumerist culture but neither did they denigrate it, they simply did not identify with it.

    The reason that so many, like myself, bridle at the criticism of consumer culture, is that it smells of a progressive elite determining what is good for people. Without wanting to invoke Godwins law that seems to me to close to the pre war National Socialist German culture of work and leisure being dictated by the elite. Rather than a bureaucrat deciding which “games” are good for me that is something very clearly up to the individual. If I decide to spend my time and money on Nintendo or buying another pair of shoes who are you to criticise?

    It seems to me that the solution lies along the path of greater education and awareness for all socio economic levels. I enjoy intelligent debate but I also like X-Factor for its pure meritocracy (popular phone votes), albeit influenced by the elite (judges).

  45. Phil Sage on May 22nd, 2010 at 02:19

    Pressed submit before I meant to. It seems to me that combination of intelligent debate and pop culture applies to most people. Stand at a pub bar and you can nearly always get an opinion out of anyone about issues of the day.

    I have high hopes for the Con-Lib coalition in the UK. The Liberal’s believe in individual over state so in that respect alone are vastly preferable to Labour’s statist approach.

    The point of relevance here is Cameron’s Big Society. I am reading a biography of Cameron and his early years are a real eye opener to the the difference that a school like Eton makes to an individual. The way to improve our society is to change the approach to education. Not scrap it and start again but recognise that a more rounded education with additional emphasis on things like values and ethics and individual attention from teachers interested in ideas and debate. Not reinforcing elitist attitudes but genuinely taking the time to improve culture.

    The libertarian ideologues argue that state funded education is evil and parents should pay. Rather than argue with them about unfairness it is more rational to argue the logic of the individual child to be provided with strong education so they can contribute to society rather than leave it to a self reinforcing lottery of parental attention. A child with their own rights to education repaid by future contribution to society should trump parental neglect. On that basis even someone with libertarian instincts like myself can support taxpayer funded education. Again the distinction that taxpayer funded does not necessarily mean state supplied at point of use. Private providers will provide beneficial competition.

    Better education will enable those who remain at the relatively lower skilled end of a socio economic strata will then bet better placed to form their sense of self worth in something other than simple consumerist competition. On a more practical level individuals with free time through lack of a job could be encouraged to contribute that time to improving their local community. I am curious as to why that seems anathema to the left.

    You may think it is simply the rich who argue for aspirational vs harm mitigation but that is simply not true. Go canvassing with any political party, as I have recently, and you will find socialists in mansions and anti bludgers in trailer parks.

    In conclusion I realise that I am rather hijacking the thread and perhaps the purpose of your post. Apologies.

  46. Carol on May 22nd, 2010 at 07:59

    On a more practical level individuals with free time through lack of a job could be encouraged to contribute that time to improving their local community. I am curious as to why that seems anathema to the left.

    The widespread existence of “community work” are examples of the way society has been built, not just on competition alone (to refer to some discussion earlier in the thread), but on a mixture of competition and cooperation. When these get out of balance, it creates all kinds of social and economic problems: poverty, crime, ill-health, anti-social behaviour etc. This, for instance, happens when capitalist competition is so fetishised that vast inequalities devlop.

    I am one leftie who has no problem with people doing community work at all, but I do balk at having unemployed people doing it for no pay. Why should they not get paid for work that benefits society, and that enables the wheels to turn more smoothly so that the wealthy business people get wealthier? That is just pure exploitation. If that community work contributes something positive to society, then the workers should be paid for it.

    Without the cooperative aspects of society, it would be very difficult for business to be done, and big profits to be made. The welfare system is part of that cooperative aspect of society, and underfunding it, or cutting it toatlly, lessens the quality of life for all. Relegating it to unpaid work is damaging to society in the long run, and when it’s done in the service of enabling business to make more profits is just plain exploitative.

  47. Phil Sage on May 22nd, 2010 at 08:54

    Carol – I agree with your basic premise. There is surely some sliding scale between sitting at home receiving an amount of money for doing nothing and paying minimum wage to people contributing to their community. I don’t have that answer now but it does seem that there should be some correlation of work and income.

  48. Phil Sage on May 22nd, 2010 at 08:56

    There is the reality of interns and students who are not paid and people getting a benefit from training. It is difficult to justify paying people doing community work a full minimum wage when there is a combination of training/work/community service taking place.

  49. Carol on May 22nd, 2010 at 10:24

    How much REAL training goes on in community work available to unemployed people? Certainly most if it doesn’t involve the comprehensive training associated with formal courses and qualitifcations.

    Paid work these days involves quite a bit of paid training. I have a part-time job that pays more than the minimum wage and for which I don’t have a specific qualification (although I have considerable work and academic qualifications and experience). I and other new employees attended a week or two of paid training before we started work in this job. We are regularly sent on further training courses. This is usually outside my normal hours of work, and I get paid my usual rate of pay to attend the courses.

    I really doubt that much of the “training” offered to unemployed commmunity workers, for no pay, is as extensive as the training I am paid to do, at a rate above the minimum wage.

  50. Phil Sage on May 22nd, 2010 at 10:29

    Carol – Let me be clear. I do not believe that the value of community work would be higher than the minimum wage in the open market and I am not simply proposing some ridiculous make work extension of so many of the “training” and into work schemes that exist now.

    I think I am advocating taking a far more structured approach than the band aids being applied now.

    But as the comments you make show, the whole area is fraught with practical and financial difficulties.

  51. Carol on May 22nd, 2010 at 11:12

    Well, Phil, it’s hard to know what structured system of community work would be available, that involves work valued below the minimum wage, and that is not part of a formal training course and/or a formal system of vocational accreditation. This would require some form of input of financial and/or human resources.

    When the recent global financial crisis hit, indicating a coming rise in unemployment in NZ, many on the left recommended a recession should be a time to invest in up-skilling people in readiness for the next up-swing. This would involve providing more places on vocational and academic courses/schemes. However, last week’s budget involves cutting the amount of tertiary education provisions.

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1005/S00344.htm

    I have had several years of experience teaching on vocational courses in the UK, where they had a good range of vocational training programmes in further education colleges. This included managing, coordinating and assessing students on (unpaid) work experience programmes. So I have a pretty good understanding of what is required.

    NZ could be more innovative generally in this area, though I think it’s easier to provide a wider range of such vocational courses & schemes in the UK because of the bigger population

  52. Carol on May 22nd, 2010 at 11:46

    And I’m just watching a bunch of men, clones in dark suits, on The Nation, discussing the budget, with a focus on business, savings, tax, consumption,etc, and so little input or apparent understanding of the relavance of the public sector, education etc to all of this. And no understanding of how this is all a crucial part of the economy.

    They are all operating within a limited paradigm, but that’s part of the usual propagandising of a very conventional and biased approach to economics, IMO, that panders most to the right, although does spilled over to the left as well.

  53. DeepRed on May 22nd, 2010 at 22:55

    Some people need to be reminded that Kath & Kim is a comedy show, not a training manual.

  54. Ag on May 23rd, 2010 at 00:19

    Thats really quite funny. Fortunately artificial life has just been created so you can defer reality and build society on your preferred artificial constructs instead.

    What’s funny is your complete refusal or inability to answer simple questions that are posed to you.

    Are you that afraid of getting tonked that you won’t even answer questions that you are asked? They aren’t difficult questions.

    The laws and conditions of the production of wealth partake of the character of physical truths. There is nothing optional or arbitrary in them … It is not so with the Distribution of Wealth. That is a matter of human institution solely. The things once there, mankind, individually or collectively, can do with them as they like.
    — John Stuart Mill

    This isn’t an answer, and it is of dubious provenance in any case, since it would require a feat of reductionism such as has never been seen.

    I’ll ask you again. Why do societies have welfare systems? A straight answer in your own words would be acceptable.

    I’m a plain man and thus require a plain answer.

    If you won’t answer then perhaps you could tell us why anyone who refuses to explain why we have a welfare system ought to be taken seriously as a critic of welfare systems.

  55. Phil Sage on May 23rd, 2010 at 12:17

    Ag – I assumed you were smart enough to figure out the response. We have welfare systems because humans want them. There is no immutable law of physics in their support.

  56. Ag on May 23rd, 2010 at 23:48

    Ag – I assumed you were smart enough to figure out the response. We have welfare systems because humans want them. There is no immutable law of physics in their support.

    That’s such a lame answer. We have chocolate factories because human beings want chocolate. You could generate an equally idiotic answer for any human need and supplied good. None would be informative.

    But we don’t have a welfare system because people want a welfare system per se, but because people want other goods that they think the welfare system is best at supplying.

    Why do we have a welfare system to provide certain goods? We know that people want them, and they are provided, but why are they provided by the welfare state.

    Please stop avoiding the question.

  57. Phil Sage on May 24th, 2010 at 21:06

    Ag – Your thinking is blinkered. State funded welfare started out of common humanity and a belief that welfare would bring social stability. The desire for a structured approach to the problem of providing for those less able or less fortunate is mixed with the desire to ensure that those in poverty do not, through social unrest, unduly impact on those with money and status.

    If you do not understand that there is a constant duality of intent then we cannot start to consider ways to effect positive change in that system.

    It really must be taken back to first principles.

  58. Ag on May 24th, 2010 at 21:40

    Ag – Your thinking is blinkered. State funded welfare started out of common humanity and a belief that welfare would bring social stability. The desire for a structured approach to the problem of providing for those less able or less fortunate is mixed with the desire to ensure that those in poverty do not, through social unrest, unduly impact on those with money and status.

    Better, but not quite. Why not private provision?

    Actually welfare didn’t start the way you mention, but never mind.

  59. Phil Sage on May 25th, 2010 at 02:08

    Well obviously private provision including family preceded state provision, whether from the Romans, the Germans or the British.

    I believe that replacing private provision with state provision is at the core of modern social problems. The marxist destruction of private assistance by the state replaces individual responsibility with something far less responsive.

    It will be interesting to see how Whanau Ora goes.

    To me the path to more effective welfare is returning to the involvement of the private sector and their ability to make value judgements. Vastly more complex than I express here but time is limited.

  60. Ag on May 25th, 2010 at 22:57

    I believe that replacing private provision with state provision is at the core of modern social problems. The marxist destruction of private assistance by the state replaces individual responsibility with something far less responsive.

    Even the paper you linked to explains why the government organizes welfare.

    And it has absolutely nothing to do with Marx.

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