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.