Thursday, July 28, 2011

State buries the truth

Don't miss this posting by John Ansell.

Annette King - uber politician

Where was deputy Labour leader, Annette King, on the removal of section 59? A staunch supporter.

In this video she, and Deborah Morris Travers, tell us that it is clear police will use discretion and common sense to administer the new law wisely.

Since the law change there has been a large rise in reports of child abuse.

Now, about the Green Paper proposal to make reporting of child abuse mandatory, this is her position:

She said mandatory reporting could lead to vexatious claims, such as neighbours dobbing in each other simply because they don't like each other."I'd also have grave concerns about the ability of CYF to handle a huge influx of what could be seen to be child abuse but may not be."

So she has abandoned her former faith in the police and CYFS to handle changed legislation.

In this 2008 press release she describes John Key as talking "out of both sides of his mouth on the serious issue of child abuse."

Annette King is now using the exact arguments of those who opposed the anti-smacking law, which she pooh-poohed at the time. Her description of the PM should be self-directed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

National's Green Paper on Child Abuse

Apparently, "Ms Bennett told reporters today the discussion paper was different, gusty and controversial."

(Gusty? Very.) Gutsy? Not. Different? I wish. Controversial? Like whether cinnamon or cocoa is better on cappuccino.

It is 'talked up' to disguise.

Just another governmental PR consultative exercise.

Talks predominantly about Leadership and then Asks for Answers. So, so many.

Uses the word 'appropriate' 14 times.
Uses the word 'vision' 21 times.



Made from Blue and Yellow.

Foodbanks - build them and they will come

This is a graph depicting food parcel uptake from today's NZ Herald.

First thing I notice is that the usage of foodbanks grew rapidly in the first part of the 2000's when unemployment and reliance on benefits was dropping.

Then I notice that after the introduction of WFF in 2005 usage dropped but by 2008 had resumed earlier levels.

Next the ratio of children to adults has increased from 2.86 children per adult in 2001-02 to 3.86 by 2010-11. One extra child. Which reminds me of a trick low income parents can pull. They simply invent an extra mouth. A client of mine got caught out when she couldn't remember the name of the extra mouth (cat got the mince from that particular parcel.)

But in any event the graph does not include details about whether the applicant is a parent or caregiver. It could be that when the ratio was lower there were more single applicants.

Obviously there is an impact from the recession. But underlying that there is a growing habit. A typical example of how governments or other organisations act to meet 'need' and in the process, create it.

Another wonderful example is the US food stamp program - now ever-so sensitively named the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. A temporary measure which has become part of the wall paper. Foodbanks - build them and they will come.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Countdown decision the right one

The answer is 'no'. I will not sponsor a New Zealand child 50 cents a day so he or she can eat breakfast. I will not because

1/ Taxation already provides Family Tax Credits for that purpose
2/ It is the parent's responsibility to feed their children
3/ More handouts will further reduce that responsibility
4/ Reducing parental responsibility only teaches children they can expect the same in turn
5/ There are conflicting messages about obesity among the lowest quintile and hunger both pushed by leftist outfits who make a living out of their advocacy
6/ I choose to use my money to sponsor a child in Malawi or Mali or wherever World Vision is currently using it to improve farming methods, build community irrigation schemes, etc., to make people self-sufficient rather than dumb and dependent

Good on Countdown for pulling out. I would change my shopping habits to show my appreciation but can't. I already shop there.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Arguing over who is "patronising"

Kathryn Ryan, Radio NZ interviewing UK Secretary for Work and Pensions Ian Duncan Smith.

Smith talks about assessing, monitoring, supporting and sanctioning unemployed or 'disabled' people. Ryan talks about the state hectoring them.

He describes communities which have a culture of worklessness, hopelessness and low life expectancy. Only miles away are aspirational communities with much longer life expectation. He wants the people in poor neighbourhoods to mirror that aspiration.

She calls him patronising and he says, more or less, her attitude is patronising.

Overall I don't hold a huge amount of hope for the UK reforms. Smith is obsessed with simplicity of operation and making work pay. But won't go to the lengths that the US has gone. For instance, where the US (many states) expect work from sole parents when the youngest is one (or even younger), Smith will only apply similar expectations when youngest is 5. Unless temporary means temporary, the attitude to welfare won't change. That was what Clinton understood and built the 1996 reforms around. Until temporary means temporary, people will keep getting themselves into dependent circumstances.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sweden: not an egalitarian paradise

This is cut and paste from James Bartholomew's blog, originally from the Spectator (no link). Really worth the read.

Sweden is iconic like Marilyn Munroe or Karl Marx. It is supposed to stand for something special: a kind of socialist paradise where socialism and a big welfare state all work together with being a successful, rich country.

The Left use it as a triumphant example: “See! It works in Sweden! High levels of equality, a big welfare state, socialism and it works!” People think that Sweden proves it is possible for a socialist welfare state to be prosperous, happy and civilised. They think it shows a relatively high levels of tax do not make much difference to economic performance. In fact, for the Left, Sweden demonstrates that all that they dream of is possible. An article in the Guardian of November 16th 2008 (“Where tax goes up to 60pc, and everybody’s happy paying it”) shows the idea is alive and well. The Left can’t quite work out why similar ideas in Britain have never led to quite the same success. But they still look to Sweden as an ideal.

The main trouble with this idea is that when Sweden was as close as it ever has been to being a socialist welfare state, it went bust. For a while, it may have seemed like a great model but it was unsustainable. The Swedish government ran out of money. Why? Because Sweden found, like Britain, that if you pay people to be unemployed, take early retirement or be sick, you get a gradually increasing number of people who claim the relevant benefits. And if you have sky-high taxes people don’t work as hard and/or they cheat and/or they leave.

Then came the financial crisis of the 1990s. Unemployment surged and it reached the point where there were simply too many well-remunerated claimants for too few taxpayers. More than one out of every five people of working age was on one benefit or another. The ideal of Sweden still worshipped by the Left as if nothing had happened didn’t actually work.

But Sweden is different from Marilyn Munroe and Karl Marx. Those icons are dead and unchanging. For Sweden, though, life went on. Going bust could not be the end of the story. The country woke up from the dream and now had to face reality. This is the untold story of Sweden. It went bust and then it made changes.

It toughened up its benefits. The money you could get for unemployment benefit was reduced. So was the length of time for which you can get it. A claimant is required to take menial jobs more quickly than before. This is a process which has applied to virtually all the benefits and which continues to this day.

The Swedes gave up a tradition lasting a generation. They started voting for non-socialist governments. These parties have won the last two elections in a row which has not happened at any time since the Second World War. In response to the pressure of events and the growing success of the non-socialist parties, the Social Democrats have also joined in the movement towards greater realism. It is reminiscent of Labour giving up on state ownership.

There has been a series of measures over the last 20 years and more which have been aimed at making Swedish capitalism freer and more effective. You could call them Thatcherite reforms.

A variety of industries from trains to taxis have been de-regulated. Competition has been allowed in business post. Farm prices which were negotiated are now set by the market. The production of electricity has been opened to competition. Taxation is complicated because there are local as well as national taxes but broadly speaking, the top rate of tax has been brought down from over 80pc to 60pc.

Then Sweden went beyond what Margaret Thatcher introduced in Britain. It went further in introducing choice and competition in healthcare and education. Free schools – that is to say schools started by parents, teachers or private companies which get paid the same amount per pupil as government schools – now account for 10 percent of children being taught in Sweden. And the proportion is still growing. One director of a private school company in Stockholm told me that he expects the proportion easily to reach 30% in the next 15 years.

Supposedly socialist Sweden has gone further than the British coalition government by allowing profit-making private companies to open new schools. Nor are the local authorities allowed to get in their way. The key political thing here is that these companies are not allowed to receive a penny more per pupil than the government-run schools. So when the private schools do better in exams, no one can claim it was because they had more resources. On the contrary, the schools spend less because they are taking out a profit margin of, say, five or six per cent. So they demonstrate that they can offer a better education for lower cost. In any case, it is up to the parents to decide. Nobody has to go to a private school. These schools only get customers who want to be there.

Sweden is also adopting a free market, capitalist approach to healthcare that would give Cameron and Clegg the vapours. If you go to a hospital or clinic there is no cult belief in healthcare being absolutely ‘free at the point of delivery’. You pay some £20 for a first visit. Nearly a third of all primary healthcare – that is general practitioners – is provided by private practices. The figure is 60pc in Stockholm which has led this revolution. Private competition is now set to be opened up in specialist care, too. The idea is that consultants will be taken out of the hospitals where overheads are high and people will increasingly be able to choose private providers of specialist care at no extra cost. The money will follow the patient. Meanwhile some government hospitals are contracted out to private companies to operate.

Beyond all that, there is a complete ignorance in Britain of just how capitalist Sweden is. The steel industry has been privatised as has forestry (remember the furore over this sort of thing in Britain?) Inheritance tax has been abolished. Yes, that’s right, abolished. The country found that too many rich people were leaving so they got rid of a tax which remains in Britain at 40pc.

Mistakes about the nature of Sweden go on and on. People think it is unambiguously an equal and happy society. But while Sweden appears relatively equal in income terms, in terms of wealth it is more unequal than the United States. You can certainly argue that this bare statistic is misleading but then the statistic about income equality could be misleading, too. If the super-rich leave a country, as quite a few did when tax rates were absurdly higher, that would make it appear a more equal society. That is one of a several factors which could exaggerate income equality in Sweden.

Sweden is also probably not such a happy society, either. The incidence of unmarried and lone parenting and divorce is very high. Research from around the world tells us that these things cause unhappiness and alienation for all those concerned – the father and mother as well as the children. Beneath the happy surface of a sunny evening in beautiful Stockholm, is a lot of loneliness. There are said to be more single person households there than in any other city in the world. Certainly there are more such households in Sweden than in any other country in the European Union.
There is also high unemployment among the young and immigrants. This is surely partly because of an effective minimum wage imposed on the various industries by the still-powerful unions. Those who cannot command a good wage, are not allowed to work for a lower one. The consequence is a high unemployment rate among those with lower skills or less experience.

Another illusion is that the welfare state in Sweden is endlessly generous. It isn’t. The main benefits are strictly based on paying insurance premiums. If you have not got a record of those payments, the social assistance you will get (commonly known as ‘income support’ in Britain) is a great deal less and is also difficult to obtain at all. It is administered by local regions out of their own funds and they are reluctant to hand out more than a minimum.

To put it bluntly, Sweden is not a socialist, welfare state paradise of equals because it is not socialist; its welfare state is in some ways tougher than ours; it is not a paradise nor are they as equal as assumed. In fact, take any popularly accepted belief about Sweden and it is probably wrong.

The Swedes are still averting their eyes from two major problems – unemployment caused by the high effective minimum wage and the lone parenting issue. But in general, they have been more realistic and active in dealing with the sort of problems that have become normal in modern democracies. They saw how socialism and over-generous welfare statism were causing potential disasters. And they reacted. The political atmosphere in Sweden is very different from that in Britain. There is a strong desire to reach consensus wherever possible. One almost gets a feeling there, that this is a democracy that is actually grown-up.

Yes, we have some things to learn from Sweden. But it is not how to be a socialist paradise. It is, rather, how to react when the idea of a socialist paradise is shown to be fatally flawed.