Thursday, February 23, 2012

Inequality might suck, but waddaya gonna do?

The following was sent by a sharp-eyed colleague and someone who still reads the Listener (thanks, Julie): 
Those at the top have pulled further ahead in the past two decades, so what’s the Government’s plan for tackling poverty and inequality? Unusually, Finance Minister Bill English isn’t sure what he thinks. The Listener has asked if New Zealand is too unequal.
  •  “You don’t get that choice, actually. You don’t get the choice of saying I’d like less inequality. You don’t have the levers.” 
Surely he must have an opinion whether, in an ideal world, this society is too unequal:
  • “I don’t know the answer to that. There is inequality. Part of that is what you get in a society where there’s equal opportunity. You get different results.”
What National won’t be doing, says English, is putting any more money into lifting the incomes of entire groups, as Labour did with Working for Families. And he certainly doesn’t think restoring some strength to trade unions is a way to improve the wages of those at the bottom. ”We don’t agree generally with the theories that you can construct equality."
So: it might be crap to be poor in New Zealand, but meh, waddaya gonna do? Because poverty and inequality just like, ya know, happen, there's nothing we can do because income distribution is an immutable law of nature.
This "what can ya do?" is mirrored in the government's recent Green Paper on Vulnerable Children, in which we read: “Many things impact on what happens to children that are beyond the reach of Government – in terms of what happens in the economy and job market…”
Putting to one side the clunky grammar, this is an extraordinary statement. Memo to Bill and Paula: if you can't do anything when you're in government, what the fuck are you there for? Fuck right off out of town and hand the reins over to someone with an interest in improving the wellbeing of New Zealanders, a project that would necessarily include reducing the inequalities and poverty that are so damaging, especially for children and young people. Claims that "we don't have the levers", or that the economy "is beyond the reach of the government" are total tripe, and as a former Treasury official, Bill, you know that. If New Zealand's economic policies can increase income inequality at a faster rate than any other country in the OECD (see graph. Data from OECD), then there are policies that can reverse that inequality should you choose to do so. In the meantime stop being a fucking parasite on the taxpayer and go back to Dipton.