Friday, October 30, 2009

A martyr is exactly what we thought you were

Last night I heard Rodney Hide say to TV3 News, "I am not a martyr".

The reason Hide's tax-payer funded spending on his girlfriend's travel consumed talkback on all channels yesterday is because that is exactly what people thought he was - a martyr.

He used to rail against perks. He cast a lone vote against increased perks. He made himself very unpopular in Parliament. A martyr "accepts discomfit in order to be more highly thought of."

Also last night, a friend rang me. She and her partner voted ACT last year because I convinced them to. That Rodney was the best thing in parliament. A cut above.

She asked, do you still have that painting of Rodney Hide? To which I responded, yes. Well get it out. I wanna throw darts at it.

She's a full-time cleaner with kids to support. Life isn't flash in material terms.

Rodney, you earn 10 times what she does. Nobody is disputing that level of recompense (not yet anyway).

But why couldn't you have paid for your partner's airfares and travel expenses?

Any Kiwi child could be a doctor or brain surgeon

Reacting to Michael Laws' comment that potentially awful parents could be offered cash as a sterilization incentive,

Barnardos New Zealand chief executive Murray Edridge said the comments were part of a pattern of provocative comments from Mr Laws designed to draw attention. "I can't believe that he actually believes this."

Any Kiwi child genuinely could become a doctor or brain surgeon – as long as there was community support for them, he said.

Well, I can't believe that Edridge actually believes that.

Leaving aside that many children are born with invisible handicaps due to their mother's lifestyle during pregnancy, leaving aside that their parents do not value education and cannot transmit a value they do not possess, leaving aside that adoption is now frowned upon by the state, does he really believe that all children have the same chance of reaching their potential?

Sadly, he is a deluded. At some point these Guy Smiley types, with benevolence oozing from every pore, with their oily optimism and perky platitudes, stop being annoying and start being a hindrance. When those entrusted with the job of advocating for children bring to the task this level of self deception you know it's time to pull the plug. His convictions will not improve the lives of NZ children.

Treasury: DPB growth about "Young women having children"

Media Release

Friday, October 30, 2009

In its report into economic long-term sustainability released yesterday, Treasury acknowledged that the recent growth in DPB numbers reflects a combination of a temporary rise in the number of young women having children and the impact of the recession.

Welfare Commentator Lindsay Mitchell welcomed this official recognition but was disappointed with Treasury's attitude.

"The popular political line has always been that the DPB is there for people who experience a relationship break-up. The Minister for Social Development recently defended the DPB saying the vast majority of recipients had come out of a marriage or de facto partnership. But now we have the Treasury acknowledging the growth is coming from young women having babies. During 2008 2,300 females aged 18-24 years-old transferred from a pregnancy-related sickness benefit to the domestic purposes benefit. These are young women who had no partner or financial support before or after birth."

"Unfortunately Treasury seems unconcerned by the rise, predicting it will be temporary. While it is true that there has been a demographic blip in the number of young women of child bearing age, the fertility rate (number of babies born per 1,000 females) has also climbed. In the 15 - 19 age group the rate has been climbing since 2003. Why does Treasury believe that trend is about to reverse?"

Treasury also draws attention to the substantial growth in sickness and invalid benefits and suggests this area as a focus for cutting spending. "While I couldn't disagree with that suggestion, equal, if not more focus needs to go on the DPB. That is because the DPB is the major driver of intergenerational benefit dependence. A report examining the long-term sustainability of the economy that fails to take account of intergenerational dependence is incomplete."

"Still, given the National government is hell-bent on ignoring the main thrust of the report, the reform of Super, its incompleteness is probably neither here nor there."

The long term outlook

Treasury yesterday released a report into the long-term outlook for New Zealand. The NZ Herald has a summary here. However, it provides an excellent overview of current spending in each major area. But for starters this is a summary of how tax is raised and who pays it.

The tax system
Total tax revenue is the product of what is taxed (the tax base) and the rate at which taxes are levied on that base. New Zealand's main taxes are:
■ personal income tax, levied using a progressive rate structure (raised $28.5 billion in 2009,53% of the tax take)
■ GST, levied at 12.5% on virtually all domestic consumption (raised $11.6 billion in 2009,21% of the tax take)
■ company tax, levied at a flat rate of 30% (raised $9.3 billion in 2009, 17% of the tax take), and
■ a range of excises on petroleum, tobacco and alcoholic products, some tariffs on imports,road-user charges and stamp duties (raised $4.8 billion in 2009, 9% of the tax take).

Issues with the tax system include:
Households (with children) in the bottom half of the income distribution effectively pay no income tax or receive tax credits, because of the interaction with the income support system.
■ The top 10% of income earners (those earning more than $70,000) pay more than 40% of all income tax revenues and about 20% of GST revenue.

Half the country is free-loading. That's great. Very sustainable.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

ACT pisses me off

There. I said it. I am feeling really shitty because I had to leave a seagull with a broken wing lying helpless on the beach. I tried to right it but it just panicked. The tide is coming in and it'll drown but what the hell does one do? I'm not sure a badly broken wing can be fixed anyway. But it has reduced me to tears because I couldn't do anything about it and it looked at me as if I should be able to. Just beautiful and helpless.

Then I come home and read about stuff that just pisses me off. And at least I can do something about that. Or say something about it. This business of taking DNA from people who have not been convicted of a crime stinks. And ACT supported it. It should be utterly against the principle they claim to uphold and defend; that of individual freedom.

It is inconsistent with the Bill of Right's "provisions against unreasonable search and seizure." It turns on its head the time-honoured (with inestimable good reason) presumption of innocence.

And the Maori Party is right. It will disproportionately affect young Maori men. But that shouldn't be the reason that they voted against it. They should have, as ACT should have, voted against it because the state has no right to forcibly take DNA from someone who has not been proven to have violated anybody else's rights.

Brain development in the absence of fathers

The Wall St Journal has an interesting article about research into the brain development of degu pups that are raised without fathers. These relatives of chinchillas are apparently normally raised by both parents. When the father is taken out of the equation the neurones develop differently.

When deprived of their father, the degu pups exhibit both short- and long-term changes in nerve-cell growth in different regions of the brain. Dr. Braun, director of the Institute of Biology at Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg, and her colleagues are also looking at how these physical changes affect offspring behavior.

Their preliminary analysis indicates that fatherless degu pups exhibit more aggressive and impulsive behavior than pups raised by two parents...

...Of course, the frontal cortex—where thinking and decision-making take place—is more complex in humans than it is in other animals. Thus, says Dr. Braun, it is important to be "really careful" about extrapolating the recent findings to human populations.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's official - calm down Sir Geoffrey

The Social Report for 2009 is out and amongst many other findings about various social indicators this appears;

Most recent data

In 2006/2007, 23 per cent of drinkers of alcohol aged 15 years and over had a potentially (my emphasis) hazardous drinking pattern.

Longer term trend

There has been no change in the rate since 1996/1997.

And in response to this 'no change' state of affairs the following have been proposed;

1 Increase the price of alcohol

2 Increase the purchase age of alcohol

3 Decrease accessibility of alcohol

4 Decrease marketing and advertising of alcohol

5 Increase drink-driving measures

...because, we are apparently, "in the grips of an under-recognised national alcohol crisis."

"The value of nothing"

There was some talk around the blogs last week about obsessive ecologists Brenda and Robert Vale who have suggested that, because our dogs have bigger carbon footprints than SUVs, we should eat them. On Friday I gave them my brickbat when participating in the NewstalkZB Face Off panel. But the following is so beautifully written I thought it deserved wider attention. From Dr Martyn Hutt to the Dominion Post;

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Spending on welfare - "...engine of the domestic economy."

Did you know that, according to Gordon Campbell;

It seems to have eluded Federated Farmers economic spokesperson Philip York at least – just as it eluded Ruth Richardson – that spending on welfare is one of the engines of the domestic economy. Beneficiaries spend the money that they get from the state in local shops – not on overseas trips or on luxury imports.

So if we want a strong and growing economy, what we need is more spending on welfare. If that were so than during the rapid growth period of welfare (last 40 years) NZ's per capita income would have climbed relative to the rest of the developed world. It hasn't.

Or perhaps he means we just need to maintain current levels of spending, at the very least, to prop up the economy.

But the money being redistributed to beneficiaries is money that cannot be spent in investment and job creation.

It is no good talking up a group's collective consuming power if, eventually, there isn't a commensurate producer. This isn't chicken and egg stuff. The production has to come first. And production requires labour.

Same story with the low paid. It has been estimated for instance, that 2/3 of this year’s wage rise to staff at Progressive’s supermarkets will be spent back at Progressive, on groceries. The money circulates back through retailers, and government gets some of it back in tax.

No. It is not the same story with the working low paid. They add value to the economy with their labour. Their earnings are not taken away from the productive sector with no return. Wealth redistribution through voluntary means - paid employment - is entirely different from redistribution through government coercion.

I do not, and never have, advocated cutting benefit payment levels. However, and I am sorry to repeat myself, a stop to the ongoing inflow of new beneficiairies is urgent. That, and a progressive raising of the qualifying age for Super would see a steady decline in welfare spending. That would drop the proportion of government spending as a percentage of GDP. That will make NZ a wealthier country.

It is impossible to estimate the social cost in crime, marital breakdown and mental health problems that have resulted from this ongoing pressure on benefit levels and entitlements.

Almost as impossible as trying to estimate the cost in crime, marital breakdown and mental health problems that have resulted from benefit dependency itself. Again all of those aspects of life have become more commonplace on the back of the growth in the welfare state. They may have worsened in the early nineties but they were already well-entrenched compared to life before the culture of entitlement and hand-outs arrived.

I am not an economist but this claim is as nutty to me as the one that goes, I may be a beneficiary but I still pay tax. I make my contribution.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I'm out of touch

My age is beginning to betray me. I seem out of touch with the new kind of gung ho approach by politicians. The fostering of solidarity and admiration among an audience that is most impressed by seeing them as 'good sports' and 'a laugh' and 'one of us'. Perhaps they figure that is the best they can do in a recession and a positive contribution to the countries morale is better than nothing.

A newish comedy show screens on TV3 called 7 Days. It's a stock in trade competition between two teams of comedians responding to leading from a adjudicator. It had me laughing out loud on Friday night. Then in rolled the Minister for Social Development (I suppose a new comedy show is a form of social development). Rolled because she had to roll in her own seat and sit in the middle. She then participated in that old game whereby you must never answer a question with 'yes' or 'no'. Probably not much of a challenge for a politician. Questions like "Have you ever done it in the back of a Holden?" answered by, "Who hasn't?". At which point I had stopped laughing and began using all my energy trying to process what I am seeing and figure out why 'we are not unamused'.

It's not very dignified. So what? Stop being such a pompous twit Lindsay. But aren't we supposed to take this person seriously? She is in charge of the government's biggest spending portfolio. In which case she is allowed to have some fun for a change. Give her a break. But I spend so much of my frigging time worrying about welfare and she's positively chirruping. In which case she has a better work/life balance than you and you could do worse than take a leaf from her book. But what would an overseas visitor make of it all? Who is that, they would ask. Oh that's just the government minister in charge of child protection services, the disability sector, care of the aged and reduction of family violence. She must be up to the job because she can make people laugh.

So my discomfit is without foundation. It doesn't stand up to scrutiny. It can only be explained by my age and the expectations I have because of it. I am a dinosaur with an attitude that says there is a time and a place; portraying a level of discipline publicly is important; maintaining a certain distance and anonymity is desirable; but above all, when there is serious, urgent work to be done there is no time for personality parades.