Saturday, September 01, 2012

Australia: Taxpayer funding versus medals won

I came across this graph via the New Zealand Initiative newsletter. It wasn't the subject of their article but appeared at the same linked page.

On the other hand NZ taxpayer funding will have undoubtedly risen along with the medal tally over the same period. Perhaps we can only safely conclude that taxpayer funding does not guarantee medals.

Russell Norman - ticket clipper

Yesterday Green co-leader Russell Norman had a conversation with Larry Williams about, amongst other things, child poverty. Norman was in favour of the universal child payment recommended by the Children's Commissioner report released earlier this week. When Larry protested that it would result in money going to families that don't need it Norman was unperturbed. His defence was that it was a simpler system to administer (so is flat tax) and would prevent those who needed it from falling through the cracks. He maintained it should be free like healthcare for all under sixes. He personally thinks its great he can take his children to the doctor free of charge. Williams again protested that Norman doesn't need to take his kids to the GP free of charge. He can afford to pay. It went on in this fashion. When Larry suggested to the co-leader that perhaps people shouldn't be having children that they can't afford to raise Norman replied, "But that's not the real world. That's an ideological position."

So common sense is now ideological. "But that's not the real world...." It's never going to be the real world either with politicians like Russell Norman blithely accepting  that people do have children utterly irresponsibly - resulting in 22 percent on a benefit within the year - and demanding that the rest of society pick up the tab for their upkeep, education and health.  Oh, and he's happy to clip the ticket along the way.

Friday, August 31, 2012

For the love of a dog

I received this story via e-mail and it touched me.

A Wisconsin man has been thrust into the spotlight after a picture of him and his 19-year-old dog went viral on the Internet, according to a story from Granite Broadcasting sister station Northland's NewsCenter.

According to the Northland's NewsCenter report:
The image of John Unger and his dog Schoep has been viewed millions of times on Facebook, reaching people across the world.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words but, it's safe to say one of Hannah Stonehouse Hudson's newest snapshot is worth millions.
"It's been viewed almost three million times; it's been shared I think 150,000 times. It's been like an incredible amount of times," said Hudson on an overcast day in Bayfield, Wis. "My mother has a saying, "For the comfort and convenience of the dog," and he is the epitome of this saying. He loves this dog, he takes care of this dog, his life is about this dog."
John Unger and Schoep have spent almost twenty years together; he was rescued as a puppy.
"We both wanted to work with a dog that had been abused and we knew this. We talked about it and that's what we wanted to do. We wanted to help out an animal and bring out his full potential," said Unger.
It's hard for Unger to talk about their time together because 19-year-old Shoep is nearing the end of his long, happy life.
"What he means to me? I can't put into words."
He suffers from arthritis and has trouble sleeping, so to ease his pain, Unger takes him swimming and Schoep will fall asleep in his arms.
"Not too many more times are we going to be able to do this. So every time now it's a pretty special feeling....the buoyancy it gives him in the water relieves the pain, or at least some of it to the point where he's relaxed," said Unger with Schoep by his side. 

 And there is more here
about how people reacted to this story.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Two wins for responsible people...

...and two blows against advocates of universal penalty.

Drinking age stays at 18 and folic acid addition to bread remains voluntary.

Great. I don't often applaud parliament but today being at their mercy is just a little less painless.

Three OIA tables that explain child poverty

Little commentary needed from me. The tables are self-explanatory. If you pick up slight discrepancies that is because the questions asked were slightly different; some variations in how the database is queried, and the first table doesn't include 16 and 17 year-olds. Suffice to say the numbers are shockingly high.

13,634 caregivers (and some will have added two babies) account for 22 percent of all babies born in 2011.

The single most influential impact on reducing child poverty would be the reduction  in these numbers

Walker takes offence at "'rape jokes"

A piece appears in the DomPost page 2 today about Holly Walker tweeting her disgust at "fellow MPs making rape jokes" prior to a select committee hearing. Her tweet included "#rapeculture #oldboysclub". She then laid a complaint with the speaker. Jamie-lee Ross subsequently put his hand up, apologised and the complaint was withdrawn. But he says his comments were misunderstood. And Walker won't repeat what she heard.

Now on one hand it's a nothing story because the complaint was withdrawn. But on the other the impression is left that Ross is a oafish, loose cannon....or that Holly Walker is particularly precious and humourless. Perhaps  there is a responsibility on her, having gone public with her strong feelings of offence, to explain what caused them.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Quote of the Day

"The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can't get and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing.The tenth time is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods." -H. L. Mencken
- (1880-1956) American Journalist
(Hat-tip ICH newsletter)

Voting for policy not for the party

In yesterday's Hutt News:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

David Shearer is pathetic

Here is his hot- off- the- press media statement. My italicised comments are interspersed:

Labour Leader
28 August 2012 MEDIA STATEMENT

John Key in denial over Kiwis in hardship 

The number of Kiwi children living in poverty has grown significantly under John Key’s watch but rather than acknowledging the problem, the Prime Minister would rather play the fool in Parliament, says Labour Leader David Shearer.

 The Household Incomes report released yesterday says "Child poverty rates were flat from 2009 to 2011 – this is a good result in the circumstance"

“John Key’s flippant response to this crisis is disappointing. He refuses to accept the findings of several reports showing the gap between the rich and poor is the widest it has ever been, that inequality is rising and the number of children living in hardship is up to 21%.

 Just as the level of inequality dropped in the 2009/10 year, it is entirely possible it dropped in the most recent 2011/12 year due to  current economic volatility. The most recent year isn't yet available.

“John Key just shrugs his shoulders and says, oh well, ‘things are bouncing around’ for these children and their families. Apparently it’s all the fault of the global financial crisis and that’s why he hasn’t been able to deliver the so-called brighter future he’s been promising Kiwis for years.

 The report says that because of the GFC, the Christchurch earthquakes, the economic downturn and recovery it cannot predict where inequality trends will go.

“That excuse and his mocking attitude won’t wash with the many New Zealanders who are working harder than ever but failing to get ahead.

“Hard-working parents can’t support their family on the paltry $13.50 an hour they’re earning. But John Key’s not rushing to help them out, saying only that they’ll ‘eventually’ get a pay rise.

 And a single earner family with two children on $55,000 or less effectively pays no tax.

“Children are going to school without breakfast or lunch because their parents can’t afford to feed them but John Key’s more interested in spending millions of dollars on drug-testing people.

 Can't afford to feed them? Even KidsCan says it takes just $241 per year to feed each of these children, maybe a dollar a school day. DPB beneficiaries get an average of around $516 a week.

“More than 50,000 New Zealanders are leaving for Australia looking for better paying jobs every year but Bill English says we shouldn’t be crying over them at the airport.

“This Government doesn’t have solutions for these problems. It just has excuses,” said David Shearer.

And you want us to prefer your crap?

Children's Commmissioner child poverty cop-out

The scene-setting opener:
"In  1986  an  estimated  11  percent  of  children  lived  in poverty.  By 2011, that figure had risen to 25 percent, or about 270,000 New Zealand children."
Those statistics are remarkably synonymous with the sole parent rates; between 8 and 11 percent in 1986 and 28 percent in 2006. Though not all child described as living in poverty are in single parent homes there's still substantial correlation. 65% of the 270,000 are on welfare. Most will be relying on the DPB.

The report just released by the Children's Commissioner asks for a lot. An awful lot.

It wants

1/ Child support payments to go to the custodial parent instead of to the government to offset the DPB (cost $159 million annually)

2/ Family tax credits to rise by an average of $17 per child and incrementally for those aged 0 - 6

3/ A new universal child payment of $125-150 per week that would be targeted to the poorer after the child reaches 6 (this could replace current forms of financial support like Family Tax Credit)

4/ To raise the take-up of other child entitlements such as the child disability allowance. It wants these rates of take-up published and the IRD and WINZ to offer performance pay for higher rates realised.

5/ More government-funded budgeting services

6/ Increased parental earnings from income and more childcare assistance 

7/ A new Child Poverty Act to "embrace" targets

The list goes on  but forgive me, as I stopped when it got to housing and health. I was overwhelmed. It's all been said before in one form or another. It's a depressing deterministic prescription. No rigorous analysis of why children are in poverty or why some children in poverty have perfectly good outcomes. The closest the authors get is this:

Social commentators often talk about child poverty resulting primarily from parents making poor decisions about how they spend their money, bad morals, a poor work ethic, bad luck, unwise lifestyle choices and so on. While some parents undoubtedly make poor choices, there is little evidence  that  poor  people  mismanage  their  income  to  a  greater  extent  than  those  who  are better  off.  This  is  not  to  suggest  that  we  should  ignore  the  contribution  of  parental  lifestyle choices  and  various  social  ills  (including  drug  and  alcohol  addiction)  to  poor  outcomes  for children, but the main causes of child poverty lie elsewhere. (My emphasis)
That's put "social commentators" in their proper place.

Let me leave you with this sample:  

It is important to recognise the impact of the experience of colonisation on Māori. The alienation of land and resources has seen the loss of a cultural and spiritual base and the loss of an economic base (Cram, 2011). Any analysis of the financial and material deprivation of whānau today is incomplete without understanding this context (Baker, Williams & Tuuta, 2012).

Contrasting attitudes and approaches to low decile school parents

When things are made free there will always be uptake and more 'need' created in the process as people's willingness to pay themselves is eroded. But these two school stories provide a sharp contrast.

On the one hand there are calls for the existing free food programmes  in low deciles schools to be expanded because parents aren't providing it; on the other is an effective new e-learning programme in Auckland's poorest suburbs, where (in Tamaki)  the average income is $19,000 but the parents are finding the $3.50 per week for their children to participate.

At you would expect the first call comes from government - or an agency of - the Children's Commissioner. Whereas the second expectation and request for parents to contribute is from the private sector.

It is too easy for parents to expect others to pick up the slack for them in this country. It becomes a habit. But as the second story demonstrates, not an unbreakable one.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Truth column August 16

My August 16 Truth column is now on-line.

I’m a non-smoker and consider my right to be free from other people’s cigarette smoke well and truly satisfied under current legislation. The anti-tobacco religionists are now starting to get up my nose far worse than cigarette smoke used to.


Other Truth columns here

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Employers take subsidy but don't uphold their end of the bargain

This issue has concerned me since learning that a Wellington/Taranaki employer subsidised by WINZ to take on young unemployed beneficiaries was paying his employees in a haphazard and suspect way. It isn't advisable to accept just one side of the story though, so I wrote to MSD and asked them under the OIA if the company was under investigation (as described to me by the mother of one of their ex-employees). I also asked if it was Work and Income practice to apply a stand-down period to those youngsters who lost subsidised jobs apparently through no fault of their own.

Their response told me that MSD was in the process of recovering subsidies from the company in question but that it was not under investigation for fraud. And that the stand-down period didn't apply in these instances.

I've since wondered  how widespread this problem is. Labour MP Su'a Wlliam Sio has also asked questions and found that employers owe $800,000 in job subsidies paid out for employees that did not, in his words, "fulfil their end of the bargain".

 “If Job Ops workers are sacked inside six months then employers are supposed to pay back the up to $5000 in wage subsidies they get to take them on in the first place.  It is not good enough that there are currently 477 employers who owe taxpayers a refund, with a total of $814,541 outstanding."

Almost certainly there will be employers who see the job subsidies as an opportunity to advance business interests. And that's OK if ultimately the young person remains in  their ethical employ. Subsidies should be the optimum win-win, despite the purist in me opposing them. The system is what it is and it's better for taxpayer money to be spent on getting someone into a job than keeping them dependent.

Quote of the day

Every dime the government spends—whether acquired through taxation or borrowing—is a dime that someone in the private economy won’t be spending. If people are not spending already—which is not the case these days—we must look to the earlier government interventions that brought about that condition—and then repeal those anti-market corporatist policies, regulations, and taxes.

— Sheldon Richman, “Bastiat Misread” [August 24, 2012]

(Hat Tip FFF)