The politics of muck raking: Changing my allegiances [Part 3]

With the debate I’ve continued reading through the various articles online particularly focused around childhood poverty but with the discussion there always seems to be a reluctance by the media and politicians to start to dissect the context of those claiming that they’re struggling. I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation in our life where we’ve come to our parents 3 or 4 days after receiving pocket money or after receiving pay from your part time job and saying, “I’ve run out of money, may I get a loan until my pay comes through”. Like any responsible parent I’m sure you heard the ominous question, “what did you spend your money on that left you lacking in money?” – the question isn’t to stop you from getting help, or trying to play the blame game but to educate you about the value of money and going back over what you’ve spent your money on and seeing whether the situation could have been avoided. The problem is that when ever poverty is discussed the question of the circumstances are never discussed; is it really smart to have four kids and a fifth on his/her way whilst struggling to pay the bills even before the first child was even born? was it really smart to go out and pay for fireworks before paying rent and power that week?

There is a tendency by politicians, after failing to analyse the basis of the problem to then turn around and start throwing money at the problem – drown it in enough money and eventually the public will believe that the ‘government’ (and in turn ‘society’) cares but whether it actually helps is a different discussion entirely. It is the same sort of belief when it comes to regulation and laws – “well, we’ve passed a law banning it so I guess we can wash our hands, walk away and believe that we’ve solved the problem” and thus you have the history of prohibition and the flawed logic behind such attempts to quash ‘undesirable behaviour’ without first recognising the cause, secondly questioning whether it is something that is a problem to begin with and thirdly asking the larger questions in regards to individual choice and the negative spill over effects.

Putting that aside, are there people that fall on tough times? sure there are, husband suddenly loses his job and the finances all turn to crap, wife is sick and the husband has to work fewer hours to take care of the kids, wife loses her job and a whole host of other issues but that isn’t what is being used as an example of poverty in New Zealand. out of the three families that were shown on the Campbell live show there was only one of them you could say “fallen on tough times through no fault of their own” whilst the other two were examples of people creating their own personal hell. Personally I find it, as someone who sits on the centre left, insulting those who are genuinely needy are lumped into the same grouping as those folks who create their own hard ship because of really stupidly bad decisions. That some how the poverty born out of events outside of ones control are some how equal to that of decisions people make based on themselves making decisions based on emotions and hormones rather than what is/isn’t affordable is quite frankly offensive.

What is the solution? I’m open to any new ideas ranging from mandatory budgeting classes, education at school about the cost of living and starting a family but throwing more money at the problem as some political parties have talked about isn’t the solution. I’m sympathetic to what the Labour Party is trying to do which is to boost the minimum wage and push up the value of our exported products so we move from a low cost to one where our products are sold on innovation and quality in much the same way Germany does but giving more money to people who can’t manage their money well isn’t going to fix the source of the problem. End of the day though the discussion about poverty becomes meaningless if the issue of irresponsible behaviour isn’t raised, when there is no effort to differentiate between poverty through events outside ones control versus poverty caused by irresponsible behaviour and thus there is an attempt a scattergun approach that lacks the nuance and subtlety required when diagnosing a problem and then finding a cure to the problem – ignoring all the information is akin to trying to diagnose an illness but ignoring all the symptoms you find uncomfortable dealing with.

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