Friday, June 12, 2015

Is "ending poverty" the wrong goal?

While not personally religious, I take an interest in the division among those who are, with regard to reducing poverty. Some groups lobby government to do more; others would prefer the government did less.

The Acton Institute falls into the second category. The following questions whether the goal should be to end poverty, or to encourage people to "flourish" and to reach their potential. From their blog:

Ending poverty focuses primarily on government policy and programs. It utilizes metrics, numbers, data to “prove” success. The goal is to move a person or family from one income bracket to the next, higher up. It is economics-focused, not person-focused.
How is the goal of human flourishing different? It is more robust, Summers says; it encompasses more than simply economic factors. “We are not simply baptizing a particular public policy agenda or means,” Summers states, but seeking a manner of living that allows each person to reach his/her fullest potential...
Primarily, government must not hinder human flourishing. It cannot and must not stand in the way of human flourishing or worse, encourage human stagnation. 
And we know what human stagnation looks like.

Thursday, June 11, 2015



It's ironic that the two groups who are least trusted probably distrust each other the most.

Quote of the day

"The greatest threat to the future of our nation — to our freedom — is not foreign military aggression … but the growing dependence of the people on a paternalistic government. A nation is no stronger than its people and the best measure of their strength is how they accept responsibility. There will never be a great society unless the materialism of the welfare state is replaced by individual initiative and responsibility."
- Charles B. Shuman

(Hat-tip FFF)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Obsolete on release

The latest OECD 2015 Economic Survey of New Zealand not only uses a lot of outdated data, but makes recommendations already implemented. For example:

"... priority should be given to raising income by increasing benefits and/or  supplementary benefits for welfare beneficiaries with dependent children. This would help to reduce the high relative poverty risk for sole-parent households , more than half of whom rely on benefits as their main source of income. Increasing main (basic) benefits and indexing them to median wages would reduce poverty across all beneficiary classes, including single-person households (below age 65), who have the second-highest relative risk of poverty."
I don't rate the OECD.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

"The weaker sex"?

That's my question mark.

A friend sent the following. My brief and off-the-cuff response to him follows.

Social change
The weaker sex
May 30th 2015 The Economist
Blue-collar men in rich countries are in trouble. They must learn to adapt
AT FIRST glance the patriarchy appears to be thriving. More than 90% of presidents and prime ministers are male, as are nearly all big corporate bosses. Men dominate finance, technology, films, sports, music and even stand-up comedy. In much of the world they still enjoy social and legal privileges simply because they have a Y chromosome. So it might seem odd to worry about the plight of men.
Yet there is plenty of cause for concern. Men cluster at the bottom as well as the top. They are far more likely than women to be jailed, estranged from their children, or to kill themselves. They earn fewer university degrees than women. Boys in the developed world are 50% more likely to flunk basic maths, reading and science entirely.
One group in particular is suffering. Poorly educated men in rich countries have had difficulty coping with the enormous changes in the labour market and the home over the past half-century. As technology and trade have devalued brawn, less-educated men have struggled to find a role in the workplace. Women, on the other hand, are surging into expanding sectors such as health care and education, helped by their superior skills. As education has become more important, boys have also fallen behind girls in school (except at the very top). Men who lose jobs in manufacturing often never work again. And men without work find it hard to attract a permanent mate. The result, for low-skilled men, is a poisonous combination of no job, no family and no prospects.
From nuclear families to fissile ones
Those on the political left tend to focus on economics. Shrinking job opportunities for men, they say, are entrenching poverty and destroying families. In America pay for men with only a high-school certificate fell by 21% in real terms between 1979 and 2013; for women with similar qualifications it rose by 3%. Around a fifth of working-age American men with only a high-school diploma have no job.
Those on the right worry about the collapse of the family. The vast majority of women would prefer to have a partner who does his bit both financially and domestically. But they would rather do without one than team up with a layabout, which may be all that is on offer: American men without jobs spend only half as much time on housework and caring for others as do women in the same situation, and much more time watching television.
Hence the unravelling of working-class families. The two-parent family, still the norm among the elite, is vanishing among the poor. In rich countries the proportion of births outside marriage has trebled since 1980, to 33%. In some areas where traditional manufacturing has collapsed, it has reached 70% or more. Children raised in broken homes learn less at school, are more likely to drop out and earn less later on than children from intact ones. They are also not very good at forming stable families of their own.
These two sides often talk past each other. But their explanations are not contradictory: both economics and social change are to blame, and the two causes reinforce each other. Moreover, these problems are likely to get worse. Technology will disrupt more industries, creating benefits for society but rendering workers who fail to update their skills redundant. The OECD, a think-tank, predicts that the absolute number of single-parent households will continue to rise in nearly all rich countries. Boys who grow up without fathers are more likely to have trouble forming lasting relationships, creating a cycle of male dysfunction.
Tinker, tailor, soldier, hairdresser
What can be done? Part of the solution lies in a change in cultural attitudes. Over the past generation, middle-class men have learned that they need to help with child care, and have changed their behaviour. Working-class men need to catch up. Women have learned that they can be surgeons and physicists without losing their femininity. Men need to understand that traditional manual jobs are not coming back, and that they can be nurses or hairdressers without losing their masculinity.
Policymakers also need to lend a hand, because foolish laws are making the problem worse. America reduces the supply of marriageable men by locking up millions of young males for non-violent offences and then making it hard for them to find work when they get out (in Georgia, for example, felons are barred from feeding pigs, fighting fires or working in funeral homes). A number of rich countries discourage poor people from marrying or cohabiting by cutting their benefits if they do.
Even more important than scrapping foolish policies is retooling the educational system, which was designed in an age when most men worked with their muscles. Politicians need to recognise that boys’ underachievement is a serious problem, and set about fixing it. Some sensible policies that are good for everybody are particularly good for boys. Early-childhood education provides boys with more structure and a better chance of developing verbal and social skills. Countries with successful vocational systems such as Germany have done a better job than Anglo-Saxon countries of motivating non-academic boys and guiding them into jobs, but policymakers need to reinvent vocational education for an age when trainees are more likely to get jobs in hospitals than factories.
More generally, schools need to become more boy-friendly. They should recognise that boys like to rush around more than girls do: it’s better to give them lots of organised sports and energy-eating games than to dose them with Ritalin or tell them off for fidgeting. They need to provide more male role models: employing more male teachers in primary schools will both supply boys with a male to whom they can relate and demonstrate that men can be teachers as well as firefighters.
The growing equality of the sexes is one of the biggest achievements of the post-war era: people have greater opportunities than ever before to achieve their ambitions regardless of their gender. But some men have failed to cope with this new world. It is time to give them a hand.


Very gloomy but contains quite a bit of truth. I hate the idea (though most accept it) that the "politicians must do something" (though to be fair the writer does talk about scrapping foolish laws). 

When they do stuff, they create unpredictable bad outcomes. If they hadn't started to pay for single parent families, the 'poor' men would have had to adapt to the changing environment re technology. If they hadn't criminalised drugs, poor men wouldn't have found a ready occupation and income. And if they didn't over-professionalise manual jobs, more men could participate. If they didn't buy into the feminist hysteria (the public service is feminist and PC) about the danger men pose to children, they could have attracted far more into teaching jobs.

There will be lots of manual work required in the future. As society becomes more affluent people want upkeep and beautification of their homes and gardens - done by someone else when they don't have the time or inclination (especially with ageing populations). Plumbing, electrical work, building and all the associated trades are still good avenues for males. My son has two friends going down that route, neither academically capable but highly practical. And degrees are OK if you know what you want and the will to get there. Otherwise they can be a wasted purchase from the state.(Surprisingly for me, I am beginning to wonder about user pays universities because the quality of the student, the teaching and the qualification seems to have suffered).

By and large I still think the free market sorts problems better than the state, including social problems like the one this article identifies.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Just out of interest...(Updated)

...does anyone have any particular response to this photo published today above a letter I wrote to the DomPost?

Update: In comments, S Beast (thank you) said :

"Looks like it is there to oppose your letter, but if this wasn't deliberate it certainly isn't congruent with the message beneath. This got past a seasoned editor? "

Here's why I asked the question. My letter didn't contain the line "...announced last week by Jonathan Coleman...". The Dompost inserted that. It's a fabrication facilitating the addition of the photograph.

Is that kosher?

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Balanced research - thank you Prof Fergusson...again

Just received via subscription:

Psychosocial sequelae of cannabis use and implications for policy: findings from the Christchurch Health and Development Study.



The Christchurch Health and Development Study is a longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1265 children who were born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1977. This cohort has now been studied from birth to the age of 35.


This article examines a series of findings from the CHDS that address a range of issues relating to the use of cannabis amongst the cohort. These issues include: (a) patterns of cannabis use and cannabis dependence; (b) linkages between cannabis use and adverse educational and economic outcomes; (c) cannabis and other illicit drug use; (d) cannabis and psychotic symptoms; (e) other CHDS findings related to cannabis; and (f) the consequences of cannabis use for adults using cannabis regularly.


In general, the findings of the CHDS suggest that individuals who use cannabis regularly, or who begin using cannabis at earlier ages, are at increased risk of a range of adverse outcomes, including: lower levels of educational attainment; welfare dependence and unemployment; using other, more dangerous illicit drugs; and psychotic symptomatology. It should also be noted, however, that there is a substantial proportion of regular adult users who do not experience harmful consequences as a result of cannabis use.


Collectively, these findings suggest that cannabis policy needs to be further developed and evaluated in order to find the best way to regulate a widely-used, and increasingly legal substance.

What stood out, and my reason for posting this, is the acknowledgement:

It should also be noted, however, that there is a substantial proportion of regular adult users who do not experience harmful consequences as a result of cannabis use.

David Fergusson's research findings are always even-handed.

Why welfare got of control - in a sentence

Good essay from the Heritage Foundation this morning. (The historic  parallel scenario applies to NZ equally. In this country European founders also formed a system of social assistance, "Charitable Aid", but administered it locally and tightly. Read David Thompson's A World Without Welfare: New Zealand's Colonial Experience)

Further into the essay:

Until the mid-1960s, free markets, secure property rights, strong family policy and minimal taxation and regulation supported a culture of work and entrepreneurship. But through the rise of modern liberalism’s redefinition of rights and justice, welfare was officially reconceived as a right that could be demanded by anyone in need, regardless of conduct or circumstances.