Friday, May 22, 2020

The Great Depression birthed Social Security. The Covid Depression could kill it.

Social Security benefits were legislated in 1938. The Labour government harnessed the collective financial power of all workers to provide for those who fell on hard times through no fault of their own (quite removed from today's premise where own-fault is ignored).

Participation was  a personal process with each citizen having their own recorded contributions and a pocketbook notating them. The money originally went into a distinct fund from which the government invested. State forests for example. It started going into the consolidated fund during the sixties.

It all worked well for a period. People had common values and didn't abuse benefits. They had been bruised by the Great Depression and the First World War.

But a 'free' money genie can never be kept in a bottle.

As societal values changed, calls for greater widening of the safety net came. For instance, Family Benefits were relatively (but decreasingly over the years) generous and paid to the mother. But only married mothers qualified. Resistance to benefits being restricted to the nuclear family grew and from the mid 1960s all mothers qualified.

As communities became more tolerant of human frailty, especially drug addiction, sickness and invalid benefit qualification criteria loosened.

That's just two examples of how social security has evolved.

Add in another compounding condition. The more normalised benefit dependence became, the greater the uptake.

The recession of the late 1980s wrought havoc and receipt blew out in the 1990s to eye watering levels. While academic lefties will tell you that the welfare state was dismantled under Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson that's rubbish. Yes some cuts to rates were made (but eventually effectively  restored via other new forms of second and third tier assistance). The Family Benefit was abolished but half of the savings were redistributed to needier families (a little known fact). While numbers relying on an unemployment benefit gradually fell uptake of the other three - Sickness, Invalid's and Domestic purposes continued to climb.

This century receipt had gradually declined (after the GFC spike) but only to levels viewed as reasonable when compared to the early nineties, not the 1960s or 70s. Dependence is still historically high at around 1 in 10 people.

The current Labour government was in the process of turning the downward  trend around. More people were accessing benefits despite the unemployment rate being low and jobs plentiful.

And that was before Covid.

Now?? Here's a few future scenarios.

Social security is the greatest $ liability the govt has, though the majority was in Superannuation. The wage subsidy is heading towards the total annual Super bill. Means-testing and lifting the qualifying Super age cannot be avoided. NZ was out of step with Australia, the US and the UK anyway in not raising the age. Though everyone seems to have forgotten we still have a rapidly ageing population.

With dwindling income ACC will seek to offload as much of its caseload to MSD as it can, increasing pressure on the MSD budget. At the same time more people will pile up on the sickness-type benefits as the health system struggles either playing catch-up after weeks of unnecessary inactivity or coping with new Covid outbreaks. The payment rate of the highest paying benefit, the Supported Living Payment, will drop.

There will be cuts to the accommodation supplement as the property market adjusts downwards.

More assistance will be provided as repayable regardless of whether that prospect is realistic.

As the imperative to get anybody they can into work ramps up the sole parent benefit will go. Paying people to look after their own children will be seen as a luxury.

Instead of the current move to NOT chase fathers for child support, the reverse will occur.

The lower age limits for benefits will rise and families will be expected to provide for previously independent children.

Working for Families will be severely curtailed.

Paid Parental Leave axed.

That's just a few possibilities.

Social Security is the very opposite of its name. It is not secure. It relies wholly on revenue from taxation or borrowing. It's sustainability cannot and should not be taken for granted as we go into a depression of unknown depth and extent.

It won't matter whether the government is Labour or National. The former will just delay the inevitable.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Rawinia Barrett ... or not

In 2015 I came across this photo of an unidentified Maori woman on the internet.

Because I used it to produce the painting below I came to know it quite intimately.

Early January 2020 I walked into the Taranaki Museum and came across this exhibit:

I stopped in my tracks. My unidentified subject was revealed as Waikawa, or Rawinia, Barrett the wife of whaler and trader Dicky Barrett - after whom Barrett's Hotel and Barrett's Reef are named.

In my mind there was no doubt at all that the photo had lent itself to the woodcut. This was a fairly exciting discovery to me.

But as I absorbed the information overnight I realised that there was a fly in the ointment. Next day I went into the reference section of the Taranaki library and read all I could about Dicky and Rawinia Barrett. Plenty about him but very little about her. Then I went and visited their joint graves.

Rawinia lived between 1811 and 1849. Before photography.

So I sent the following email to the curator:

I visited your museum for the first time on 4/1/20. You are displaying an image of Rawinia Barrett, Dicky Barrett's wife as per attached.

The image was immediately familiar to me because I produced a painting from a photograph with the same face, pose and clothing details:

The photo is in a collection held by the French National Library and labelled as created between 1860 and 1879.

The similarity between the 'woodcut drawing' and the photo is unmistakable. I believe the woodcut drawing was executed from the photo.

But the photo could not be of Rawinia Barrett who lived between 1811 and 1849 - before the age of photography in New Zealand.

Perhaps you can check the provenance of your display image to ascertain whether she is indeed Rawinia Barrett.

Not long after I received the following response:

I've had a look into the woodcut image that is described as depicting Rawinia Barrett, and what I've been able to find is that the image was published in the book 'Early Days Taranaki' by local historian and collector Fred B. Butler, with a credit line stating that the image was reproduced with permission from Mr and Mrs W.T. Duffin of New Plymouth (descendants of the Barretts), and that the woodcut block was loaned by the Taranaki Herald.
But as you say, the woodblock image is very clearly an artistic derivative of the photograph that you found online, and it's certainly highly unlikely that Rawinia was ever photographed as I don't believe she left the country. So I suspect that someone along the line has incorrectly attributed the woodblock.
The writer assured me that she was going to do "some more digging" and I inquired again mid March but was told nothing definitive had been discovered. I now expect the issue is not of great urgency given recent events. BUT...

This is a prime example of how errors - even unintentional - become 'truths' over time.

I note that there are a couple of family trees into which descendants have put a lot of time and energy using the woodcut image to depict Rawinia.

Sadly it is not.

Monday, May 18, 2020

"'re going to do WHAT!!!?"

Another wonderful Wahlberg creation

I love this work. The hammer cowers like a supplicant dog being menaced by a more aggressive beast who may not be bigger and stronger but is defiant and dominant. I like the hammer because she reminds me of my dog Limmey. Not a nasty bone therein .... Wahlberg's sculptures always evoke a response in me.

Prisoners on remand double

In the first three periods charted just over one in five prisoners was on remand - awaiting trial. The latest March statistics show the ratio has climbed to 38.5% - almost 2 in 5.

What is the saying? Justice delayed and all that.

And it is projected to get worse.

The number of prisoners held on remand over the period from June 2017 to June 2027 is projected to nearly double from 3,000 to 5,400, the Ministry of Justice says.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Brave new world makes no sense

Simplicity of idea is always desirable. But the idea still has to make sense. A professor reported on RNZ says:
"I think the pandemic spells the end of the neoliberal era and I think the idea that government should be small and inactive and everything should be left to market forces has seen its day."
People had few possessions until there was an explosion of prosperity in the 20th Century, and now people have garages, basements and houses full of stuff, and full themselves with too much food, Westacott said
But if Westacott wants to frame matters historically the, "small and inactive" government he decries coincided with when, "people had few possessions". His nirvana.

Some people have 'too much stuff' even for the size of their homes as evidenced by the explosion of the storage industry but their consumerism has contributed to voluntary wealth redistribution  globally, lifting many out of poverty. Voluntary is indisputably better than  forced wealth redistribution.

I wonder how the professor squares the well being of people in developing nations making our imports - those emerging from poverty -  against ours? Or does philosophy have geographical borders?

It's an indulgent novelty for rich countries to play at non-consumerism. 

The pandemic should not be encouraged to end the general progress to a richer, more peaceful globe.