On giving a hand up

So, I’ve been incredibly busy between RL stuff and other writing projects lately and this blog has suffered as a result. I’m not apologising for that, as political blogging is a very asocial activity and not exactly the sort of thing I need to be sinking time in- just explaining for anyone who’s curious where I’ve been.

I wanted to address a point that I’ve been discussing recently and have finally come up with what I think is an adequate analogy- and that point is offering a hand up to counter systemic racial disadvantage. If you’ve never looked after kids or been a parent, imagine for me that you have responsibility for two children and have determined that you’re not going to play favorites. One of these kids is really bright, and learns pretty naturally and has needed very little help. The other has great difficulty with academics and needs motivation and assistance to do well. Do you spend more time helping the kid with difficulties, and spend money/time/etc… on tutoring them when your other kid doesn’t need it?

I think the difference in our view on race-based politics that aim to improve the lot of Maori or Pasifika or other racial communities who have been left behind by a previously dominantly settler-based economy is based on the dilemma posed in my analogy. Many on the right of the economic political divide feel that any different treatment for any ethnic group is wrong. Many on the left of the economic divide feel that by putting scholarships and special programs in place to address the gap in educational achievement for some ethnic groups is merely giving help to those people who need it, and that, metaphorically speaking, the Pakeha community (or the Caucasian/NZ European one, if you prefer) does not have need of a tutor.

I say that noticeable disadvantage trumps the appearance of favoritism. There is a clear statistical difference which indicates underlying social failures that give us a real mandate for interference1 to create more opportunity for New Zealanders who might otherwise get left behind. You wouldn’t fail to tutor your kid if they were having difficulties learning, because that would be neglectful. You might not be treating your kids on exactly the same basis anymore, but that’s okay. There’s still an underlying principle of equality behind them: namely, that you help people according to their needs, and don’t neglect people just because they’ve had a problem or two getting started. While that sounds a bit like discrimination if you’ve never been in a place to experience falling behind before, you’d find it was very fair if, for instance, you needed a hand up from the government to retrain in the current recession, to get back into education after giving up on it, or something similar.

In short, the concept of looking after welfare- to support people to learn and to do work that they’re passionate about and find valuable- is a good one that should be applied to government, and not, as claimed by some on the right, some form of discrimination.

1 In the sense of “making things better”. Interfering isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even if you’re tired of “nanny state”. John Key’s interfered plenty, too.

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7 Responses

  1. Great post. I really do believe it is as simple as ‘you help people according to their needs’.

  2. Ari – your concepts have been in place for a long time, yet the results haven’t been forthcoming. When is the left going to realise that its (albeit well intentioned) philosophy is flawed? I’m sorry but the status quo isn’t good enough. If we want to help ethnic groups behind in various sectors of society then clearly “hand-outs” have proved to be a dismal failure. They have before, they do now and they will in the future.

    Time for some new thinking, and it doesn’t start with the insulting comparison of Maori to the delinquent child. That’s the first step. We must see Maori (and other groups) as equal to Pakeha from the beginning. We then must investigate why there are disparities. I don’t think the inane answer of “settler-based economy” is going to help. For starters you’re 100+ years behind with this silly excuse. We don’t call whiteys settlers anymore (okay we probably shouldn’t use the term ‘whiteys’ either), but I think our economy has transformed multiple times over since the actual settler times. Need I remind you of Rogernomics?

    So what is the answer? Well I agree in a safety net as does most of NZ, incl those who regularly vote right. But my starting point would be to treat Maori as equals. It appears the left may call Maori equal as humans (of course) but really they seem to treat them as poor unfortunates, maybe of some “settler-based economy”, or some other silly term that suits the lefts’ morally vacant needs. Fact is, we need to see that we are all born equal in the eyes of the law of the land. The next step is to investigate the root causes for any failings of one group when compared to another. Of course “hand-outs” are one easy ‘solution’, but the wrong one as time has proved. Why do Maori really fall behind other ethnic groups in NZ? My belief is due to cultural differences. I’m not referring to Maori culture per se (as rich as it is), but the living culture of the Maori people in today’s world. To address this with “hand-outs” is a quick non-answer and an insulting one. We need to look at the root cause one by one: smoking, crime, alcohol & drugs, treatment of children, employment etc, etc. Of course there is considerable overlap but we need to take the difficult road to solving these issues on a more micro-level, not with the easy option of “hand-outs” (or “hand-ups”, whatever you want to call them). Now sadly I don’t have a silver bullet answer, but aren’t all of life’s problems complex? I like the idea of education. I’m not referring to uni scholarships that benefit a few, but rather education to highlight the dangers and pitfalls of the choices made by said cultural group (or to be exact the failures within the said group). In a way we do this already on a national level. For instance, NZ’s drinking culture. Many on the right say this is a waste of money but I disagree. Govt bodies promoting “healthy” life choices can help people think twice about their actions. For specific groups’ particularly failings, my preference is for targeting. So this doesn’t involve nationwide TV ad campaigns, but for Maori at least there are many arms of Maoridom that can be touched and influenced where the govt (as representative of the people, incl Maori) can assist. Local tribes, iwi, the connectors, mavens and salespeople”, how can the government assist them to spread messages that the status quo is not acceptable, and to advise on alternatives. Alternatives that will have benefits.

    Well I have been waffling, haven’t I? I guess in summary, cash hand-outs, scholarships etc and blaming the Brit arrival to Aotearoa are not the solutions today. We must target, educate and provide alternatives. This is not easy, but we must try, we must start, and now.

    Okay I know you are probably going to respond by picking out quotes from this comment and attacking them individually, but I ask you this time to take my view as a whole, and realise that we want the same thing. Let’s look at the concept/methodology of solving the imbalance as a whole, rather than cherry-picking to suit our individual political views (and yes I am also guilty of this in the past also).

    Cheers,
    Seán

  3. your concepts have been in place for a long time

    Six years is not a long time in the lifecycle of an electoral system.

    I’m sorry but the status quo isn’t good enough. If we want to help ethnic groups behind in various sectors of society then clearly “hand-outs” have proved to be a dismal failure. They have before, they do now and they will in the future.

    I’d ask you not to derail the discussion into hand-outs. We’re talking about hand-ups, or temporary relief that allows people to solve a problem for themselves.

    Time for some new thinking, and it doesn’t start with the insulting comparison of Maori to the delinquent child.

    I agree with you that respect has to be the default position. This is why I propose we leave this sort of decision to Maori voters- who have already lent significant support to the Maori roll, for instance.

    So what is the answer? Well I agree in a safety net as does most of NZ, incl those who regularly vote right.

    OK, but even voting Labour is voting for the erosion of that safety net. You need to go to the very left of the parliamentary spectrum to get any support for livable benefit payments for people who need long-term support from that safety net.

    Also, as I point out here, measures like Maori seats are essentially a political-level safety net to ensure Maori representation, yet you oppose it.

    I don’t object to people from the right saying they support a sufficient social safety net, but the official position of the centre and the right in New Zealand is not consistent about that, so that commits you to significant activism to turn around your side of the political machine on this issue.

    Why do Maori really fall behind other ethnic groups in NZ? My belief is due to cultural differences.

    Are you saying that wider NZ society is wrong not to share more of its cultural values with Maori, or that Maori are culturally deficient somehow and need to change? Because the latter would be pretty inconsistent with your call not to treat Maori as children. A child isn’t responsible for problems their culture causes them. An adult is, and it’s not for other adults to tell them their culture is wrong. (That doesn’t preclude talking about it being problematical, but your claim went well beyond that I think)

    I’m not referring to uni scholarships that benefit a few, but rather education to highlight the dangers and pitfalls of the choices made by said cultural group (or to be exact the failures within the said group).

    See above. This is sounding pretty much like a parent talking about educating a delinquent child to me. *shrug*

    I do agree that targetting is really important for addressing trickier problems, but honestly I don’t think we’re at that level yet. We are still sorting out basic issues of discrimination and settler mentality among Pakeha (or european if you prefer) New Zealanders, pulling Maori out of poverty that has been imposed on them by previous policy mistakes and negligence, etc… This necessitates hand-up policies. Because we need so much of them, it might look like a “hand-out”, because it needs to be a long term poverty prevention problem, but that’s just something that we need to make the reactionaries swallow.

    However you propose to deal with the statistics it involves a significant investment into the Maori community. I’d prefer projects lead by Maori that directly work on improving communities. You’d prefer education. I think there’s some merit to that too, but I’m gonna preface that with the disclaimer that there’s helpful ways to point out something’s a problem and get it to improve, and unhelpful ways. Michael Laws telling off students to work on Maori abuse and crime was unhelpful, for instance, and similar paternalistic lecturing needs be avoided if any education programs have effect. MSD and Paula Bennett’s “Never Shake A Baby” program will probably be helpful to some degree. (although whether it is cost-effective is a different question)

    Okay I know you are probably going to respond by picking out quotes from this comment and attacking them individually, but I ask you this time to take my view as a whole, and realise that we want the same thing.

    I try to keep quotes within context as much as possible. I think we both recognise the others’ intentions are in the right place, but that doesn’t preclude either or both of us having bad ideas or idealogical blind spots. :) I think it’s clearer to quote what I’m replying to most of the time rather than try repeating it back to you.

  4. Cute analogy, but it assumes that both children have equal aspirations – or at least accord with the aspirations the parents have for them.

    Where one child wants to get ahead but the other, with equal potential, would prefer to enjoy the moment with toys or trivial pursuits, or sits around sullenly refusing to participate because of resentment over past punishments or injustices it believes now entitle it to privileges or advantages, which of the two is more deserving of your limited resources?

  5. If you think it’s aspiration that limits children from reaching their potential, I’m not sure there’s any agreement to be had.

    Aspiration and ambition are easy. It’s the skills to realise your ambitions that make the difference. Speaking from experience, resentment isn’t a symptom of lack of ambition- you can’t have resentment for someone doing better than yourself unless you have an ambition to be better than you are.

    Given the way adult society works, I’d say that both children will benefit if you give both children as many resources as you can, putting priority onto the most urgent issues without neglecting anyone. Right now that is most certainly not the philosophy our society follows.

  6. Hi – sending this to people I think might be interested – hope yo dont’ mind – hoping to generate some interest in my two anti-war songs – the first, “George and Tony” about the illegal Iraq invasion and the second, “Letter to Mr Obama” concerns the escalation by his administration of the Afghanistan conflict – unfortunately, should have written it earlier. Have a listen – hopefully the sentiments will resonate, and , if so, please pass this on to anyone who may be interested. If it can be used in any way in the debate concerning Afghanistan/related issues, I would be more than pleased.( Anyones welcome to sing/record them, if htey want – )

    http://www.myspace.com/subversifpoet

    Best wishes
    Bruce
    hamilton
    ps hoping to add some NZ songs – “Hikoi’ adn “Going Back to Orewa” – which mgiht be to your liking

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