Monday, September 29, 2014

One for the sociologists

So Mr/Ms Sociologist, you think you know your middle class from your underclass? Here's something for you to ponder.

During my Saturday morning shopping trip to Onehunga, I happened to come across a long line spewing out a sidestreet into the main shopping centre:

The queue started at some outfit called Ca$h & Cheque$ which I assume is a fringe lender for folk who can't get a temporary overdraft from a mainstreet bank. So why were a whole lot of people suddenly trying to get loans on a Saturday morning?  They weren't:

They were cashing their AECT cheques. I asked someone how much much they were being charged to cash the cheques? There seemed to be a bit of confusion about whether it was $25 or $29. Which is a fair whack out of a $335 cheque. A couple of people said it was worth paying because cash in the hand today is worth more than money in the bank tomorrow. The interesting thing is that almost all those cashing the cheques were Maori/Pacific. I only saw two palagis and they were with their Pacific relatives. 

Now here's the question for the sociologists: who is this group of almost exclusively brown citizens that are prepared to queue and pay a reasonable sum to get cash on a Saturday morning? Are they people with no access to mainstreet banks? Do they not trust the bank? Are they people who don't want the cash showing up in their bank accounts at all for whatever reason? Are they beneficiaries, working people, or a mix?

I don't know but I bet no one else does, either. Yet here is a significant demographic (some version of this was probably happening in suburbs around Auckland) behaving in a way that clearly makes perfect sense to them but probably mystifies most others. The problem is the mystified ones include people (and I'm thinking of you, Wellingtonians) who are creating policies on these citizens' behalf and pretending to have a clue about how they respond to financial and other incentives. If policymakers can't explain the dynamics behind this phenomenon then their policies will continue to miss the mark for the simple reason that they do not understand their target market. (I say continue because most social policy in New Zealand is only marginally successful but that's another blog.)

My contribution to the rather festive atmosphere was that everyone got to laugh at me taking the photos, and I almost managed to persuade some nice woman to go spend all her money at the hairdresser. An expensive new hairdo for the weekend? For that even I'd cash a cheque.