Friday, 29 May 2020

The Limits Of Kindness.

Race-Based Geography: All the old Marxists out there (all seventeen of them!) will object that the bureaucratic discrimination embodied in the new two-tier benefit system is not based on race, but on social class. To say that, though, is to miss the salient fact of the socio-economic changes of the past 35 years. Namely, that the poorest and most marginalised people in our society have become steadily less white.

I’VE OFTEN WONDERED if South African immigrants passing through towns like Kerikeri and Kaikohe ever wonder how we do it. In their homeland, through the bitter years of Apartheid, keeping the races segregated required pass laws, Alsatian dogs, tear gas, rubber bullets and, all-too-often, live rounds. Not here. Not in Godzone. Here, the “brown towns” are readily distinguished by their boarded-up shops, bottle stores and WINZ offices. The “white towns”, by their main streets’ homage to conspicuous consumption: all those funky cafes and swanky boutiques. No Sharpevilles required. No Sowetos. Quite a trick.

They must also scratch their heads at New Zealand’s segregated schools. How were the rolls so effortlessly sorted? In one school (usually in the poorest part of town) the roll will be upwards of 85 percent Maori and Pasifika. In another (ten miles from the first, where the pupils’ warm dry houses are surrounded by mature trees and carefully tended gardens) the roll will be 85 percent Pakeha and Chinese.

In Boston, Massachusetts, it took school-busses and billy-clubs to enforce desegregation. No political party in New Zealand has ever been willing to wear the backlash. And because we lack a supreme court with the power to strike down legislation which violates a written constitution (which we also lack) no one has ever forced them to.

Parliamentary supremacy, coupled with a free-wheeling Executive Branch unburdened by serious judicial restraint, has produced a political system in which racism has not only been institutionalised but also rendered electorally invisible. To argue otherwise is to ignore the evidence of Tuesday’s newspaper headlines – or (at the very least) wilfully misinterpret them.

Monday’s announcement, under the names of Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, and Social Development Minister, Carmel Sepuloni, of what they have dubbed the Covid-19 Income Relief Payment – CIRP (but which would rather more honestly have been called the Middle-Class Pakeha Income Relief Payment) was a shocker. Seldom has a government acknowledged the yawning gulf between the rich and the poor – the white and the brown – with such gobsmacking insouciance. Or, it must be said, with such rock-solid confidence that its blatant policy of racial discrimination will be accepted by the voting public with barely a flicker of concern or guilt.

What is it, after all, that separates a young Maori bartender made redundant on 29 February 2020, from a middle-aged Pakeha marketing manager let go on 25 May? It’s a question with many answers. But after all the superficial demarcators have been acknowledged, the explanation always circles back to one thing: the size of the fuss you can make. The marketing manager from Remuera has the means to make a great deal more fuss than the out-of-work bartender from Mangere. Give a marketing manager a look of withering contempt and he’ll ask to see your supervisor. Give a bartender the same look and he’ll turn away from the counter with a burning knot of rage and shame in his guts.

Oh, and the other thing that separates these two New Zealanders is the fact that the bartender on his Jobseeker Allowance will receive $250 from the taxpayer, while the marketing manager on his CIRP will receive $490.

All the old Marxists out there (all seventeen of them!) will object that this bureaucratic discrimination is not based on race, but on social class. To say that, though, is to miss the salient fact of the socio-economic changes of the past 35 years. Namely, that the poorest and most marginalised people in our society have become steadily less white.

The effectively monocultural social landscape of the 30 years after World War II played a crucial role in preserving the political acceptability of the Welfare State. The more “bi-cultural” and then “multicultural” we became, however, the less redeemable our cradle-to-grave promissory notes became. Social generosity and cultural homogeneity are intimately related. When the majority of blue collars (or should that be Hi-Viz vests?) begin to be worn around brown necks, then the socialist party tends to get cancelled.

This government has decided (very sensibly in a strictly political sense) that it would be electorally counter-productive to have a growing number of middle-class Pakeha New Zealanders discovering exactly how many humiliating hoops working-class Maori, Pasifika and immigrant New Zealanders have to jump through to get their hands on a lousy $250.

Clearly, kindness has its limits.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 29 May 2020.


Anonymous said...

I also thought that the extra "COVID19 Redundancy payment" betrayed core Labour party values & constituents. But this is what we get when the major parties have been captured long ago by the chattering & academic classes instead of people who have made their way in the real world (same thing happens in Oz as criticised last year by jointly Howard & Keating). I was only surprised that Winston didn't stop it, he's more than enough experience to see the optics through their blinkers.

As for NZ's institutionalised racism, it cuts both ways now. The other announcements over the last week included the academic lead of the Dunedin Medical school dancing on the head of a pin attempting to justify why ~40% of places were now reserved for Maori irrespective of academic ability & the DHBs prioritising operations based on ethnicity above health need assessment, based on generic genetic & assumptions as to Maoris supposed health disadvantages (so presumably a 20yo Maori Rugby player's knee injury takes priority over an 80yo European grandmother's hip replacement). As Taika Waititi would/should say: "racist as ****". RobbieWgtn

BlisteringAttack said...

As Stalin maintained: the kulaks were always the problem.

Kat said...

Oh look over there, the govt has lit a new fire for the people who have just been chucked out into the cold. Oh look it’s bigger than ours, how come they get that size fire, what are the govt thinking. Let’s go and pour some petrol on it, that should make us all feel warmer.

greywarbler said...

Why shouldn't a 20 uear old's rugby injury take precedence over an 80 year old's hip replacement? That is another bone of contention when we are pointing bones at NZs conundrums, which never will be solved as we don't even want to think about them, less talk about them.

The case could be made for the 20 year old, as he may not be able to work if he can't get healed, and he has to support himself as he is young and has a lifetime to live and needs to be active. Whereas the 80 year old is being supported partly by his earnings, if he has been lucky enough to find work to support himself. The 80 year old has had a long life beyond the average for these days. It is time for the elderly to embrace the young and care about them, not just regard them as wallpaper. So the 80 year old is in pain, that must be dealt with. But the simple-minded entitlement of the old is breath-taking. They will sacrifice the young and their health and happiness so they can get every last breath they can achieve - hooray for the old people living over 100. The study of human life and how we can be an effective beehive, living with and for each other with limits on individual demands is an extraordinary lack in our educational array.

And still racism enters here. Maori die so much earlier, and stats show worse health outcomes than pakeha at every age. One of their difficulties is that they tend to become resigned to having less and incorporate that into their lives, and it becomes part of the culture of many families.
Pakeha authorities don't understand this and their views are often quite alien to general Maori I think.

Anonymous said...

@ greywarbler that's the problem with straw men. The 80yo Maori grandmothers hip replacement will also presumably receive priority treatment above the 20yo European rugby player. RobbieWgtn.

Philip said...

Chris, usually your writings make a lot of sense and I can see your point relating to the separation of towns and the correlation with Apartheid South Africa, but your points relating to the makeup of schools show you are wrong. A school having 85% Maori is not segregated but simply reflects the choices of the parents as to where they live and work. A segregated school would be 100% Maori or 100% European. If the choice is freely done because you as a parent see an advantage to a particular school for your children, then racism is not any part of the equation. For example, our children attend an integrated school with Christian special character, it is possibly one of the most multicultural schools in NZ and is popular with all ethnicities because it offers the special character the parents are looking for! This is a choice freely made by each parent. Why would anyone think the Government should force children to go to a particular school based on their colour is beyond me and actually seems more racist than allowing free choice even if it ends with "white" and "brown schools predominantly. So long as any child is welcome at either school then there is no racism.

Sam said...

To anonymous

Institutional racism does not cut both ways, that is just your way of refusing to believe that racism is a problem, then seeing programs that benefit victims of racism from the perspective that you are the one true victim.

David Stone said...

The question seems to me to be "what is this extraordinary handout of money intended to achieve?
Folk already on a benefit whether from a week before covid action or long term, are not going to be much effected by the lockdown (and the underlying financial crisis) one way or the other. The middle class income earner who would never have been expected to become unemployed is not actually the target of the unbalanced assistance . The objective is to keep the whole system alive. And if all the middle income earners on $700 to $1000 or more a week who are made redundant either permanently or temporarily , are to be reduced to an income of $250 they are all going to loose their homes and vehicles and life insurance etc etc etc. as they are all mortgaged according to their current income. So the housing market will collapse , the banks will go under and the whole economy will come to a grinding halt.
So the only way for the government to make the payments even handed and also work in the way the extraordinary action is intended would be to increase all the benefits to match what middle income people are receiving. In terms of stimulating the economy through the crisis that would be effective too ,but is it workable in the long term to have beneficiaries on the same level of income as middle income earners? Who would be a middle income earner far less a low wage earner?
In the present situation though I think they might as well do that though, the money printing/ debt creation , hyperinflation genie is well out of the bottle now. Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow diet.


pps Part of the reason the poorest have become less white is because the colours have run , and blended.

Nick J said...

I was very disappointed with this policy gaff but not surprised. When the white working class voted in the welfare state they understood that the unemployed lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

The neo lib regime introduced the concept that an individual responsible for their own circumstances thus absolving the economy, employers, capital from any responsibility. Benefits ceased to be regarded as a safety net, they became begrudged charity. Then add the race card. Sordid.

This new crisis will demonstrate the error of the neo lib worldview. Jacinda and Grant need to get with the program.

Olwyn said...

Both race and class are at play here. Neoliberalism didn't turn the entire white working class middle class - it drove a great many of them (as well as members of the brown working class) to leave for a Australia, and has airbrushed the remainder out of public discourse. The broad target of neoliberalism was always working class confidence. The NZ middle class harbours a related, longstanding fear of Maori and Pacifica confidence, except where it relies for its advancement on white middle class patronage. To sideline class is to leave unchallenged the overwhelming dominance of white bourgeois culture under neoliberalism, even when that culture diversifies to include a few brown members. The pretence is that bourgeois culture incorporates everyone, until events like the two-tiered dole scheme show that this actually means "everyone who matters to the bourgeoisie". This great bourgeois fog is damaging to all communities that don't sit well with its aims, including professions that used to think they stood outside of class categories, like artists, serious journalists and public academics.

guerilla surgeon said...

I'm sure that poor people live where they do because of choice. Do I need a /sarc here? Probably, sadly.

greywarbler said...

Anonymous Robbie
Well I did say age priority was another bone of contention. Sometimes
other points call to be raised when talking about people.

The age divide is a separate issue from straight race-based disadvantage, though the lack of health treatment and the greater need for it by the poor is probably borne more by Maori, who show up in the stats as suffering more problems and in higher numbers within their percentage of the population.

greywarbler said...

Philip I think you oversimplify. Racism can be structural. A set of policies that are too different from their cultural norm, or too expensive or embarrassing for some groups or ethnicities, can be as effective in dissuading attendance as a stated ban.

Hearing that your school had a 'Christian' character would ake me wary. I am a Christian but find some ideas of how Christians should think and behave entirely unsatisfactory and I would be uneasy about getting involved with the present-day evangelicals or else, prosperity churches.

A sports-oriented school would not appeal to me as a parent, but others might feel right at home there and find the values taught agreeable. Even without race, I may feel that my children would not 'fit' in some schools.
It all depends how the school deals with differences between the various children, whether it welcomes them and acknowledges their differences, understands and respects them and incorporates understanding between pupils in their teaching methods.

Geoff Fischer said...

The two tier benefit system was not a gaff and it is not an anomaly.
As David Stone has remarked, in the context of the government's determination to preserve New Zealand capitalism, it was a necessary measure to keep economic connections from dislocating and society from becoming dangerously destabilized.
Paying the "newly unemployed" at the same rate as the "previously unemployed" would have precipitated a large scale loss of personal assets - homes, cars, other property and investments.
Paying the previously unemployed at the same rate as the newly unemployed would have destroyed the incentive for those previously unemployed to take up employment and for those employed on the minimum wage to remain in employment.
This was clearly an ad hoc policy decision but it comes from somewhere and is heading somewhere. To be precise, it comes from a line of Labour government innovations, such as the original New Zealand superannuation scheme (repealed by the Muldoon government), the Accident Compensation Scheme and the KiwiSaver scheme which pay benefits in proportion to previous earnings. That is why Carmel Sepuloni described it as a form of "unemployment insurance" rather than as an "unemployment benefit".
It is a matter of fact that in order to sustain capitalism in New Zealand it has become necessary to institutionalize inequality. That is what the two tier system is all about.
I am one of those (albeit not a Marxist) who maintain "that the bureaucratic discrimination embodied in the new two-tier benefit system is not based on race, but on social class" or, more correctly, on the ideology of colonial capitalism.
There is, on the other hand, a regime-wide consensus that New Zealand politics must be viewed through the lens of race. The colonialist left, right and centre agree on that. Your comrade Martyn Bradbury in his "Daily Blog" even goes so far as to ban comments which refer to kawanatanga and rangatiratanga, or suggest that the root cause of New Zealand's conflicts are political rather than racial.
Whether or not that is the intention, constant assertions that it is "all about race" tend to dis-empower and divide us, but despite that at the grass roots level Maori, Pakeha, Pasifika and others are indeed one people, and it is as one people that we will bring an end to the era of colonialism and its concomitant inequities.
The only perspective from which one can logically criticize this measure is that of nationalism or socialism. One cannot logically criticize it while still supporting colonialist regime or the Labour government. So I see this post as an expression of angst from one who is not ready to accept that the fundamental problem of New Zealand society lies in a bankrupt ideology and an alien political system rather than the supposedly racist attitudes of ordinary New Zealanders.

Barry said...

Chris - the challenge you write about isnt a particular New Zealand problem.

In the early 1960's welfare started to 'blossom' around the world. Politicians started to use welfare as a vote getter. Its was mostly used in western countries - and the more it was used the more politicians in other countries saw its success and started to use it themselves New Zealand used welfare with enthusiasm - both left and right.

The leaders of lower socioeconomic groups latched on pretty quickly to the idea that the more they asked for - the more they got. And like aid to Africa - the more that is provided - the more that is demanded. This has now developed to such a point that the Apartheid towns you refer to are simply a group of people who survive on the welfare system. They have become utterly dependent on welfare as they know no other way to survive and they have alienated themselves from mainstream society.

Who is to blame for this? Well politicians, but also the leaders or spokespeople of these groups and also those who have promoted welfare as a solution.
Its now developed into claims of such things as unconscious racism and institutional racism - and the only way to solve these new ones (according to those who pronounce about it) is more welfare and special provisions such as race based acceptance into a programme. None of this will help of course. The inferiority felt by persons accepted to these programmes almost always back fires.
Now we have claims of the effects of colonisation.

Interestingly its the same in USA. There the most recent demands are based on the 'effects' of slavery. The fact that ALL cultures and races have been slaves at some time in history seems irrelevant. (Europeans were widely taken into slavery by the Moors in the middle ages. They were enslaved in north africa by the muslim moors. It doesnt seem to have had any effects on the europeans).
And you mentioned the Busing programme used in the US. Well the latest claims for more payouts is that Busing deprived those who were bused of their ethnic heritage.

As these demands are developed and as they are compensated - it simply puts the so called disadvantaged group even more deeply into welfare dependency. It takes them even further away from the rest of society and makes those apartheid towns even more depressing and isolated.

It makes for a depressing picture. The current underlying programme of blaming everyone else - especially anyone who is white - for the state of affairs wont make any difference. As an example I look at the claim that Covid-19 affects Maori and Pacifica more than others and the millions paid out to help protect this group as just another reason why these two groups are becoming a drag on society that we could well do without. After all both these groups underperformed in the Covid stakes with infections being about half their proportions in the population.

Mike Grimshaw said...

There are (at least) two things happening here in this decision. Yes, it is the expression of structural racism - but as we know, this is nothing new.

I returned from a trip to the USA a few years back during the rise of 'Black Lives Matter' and in conversation with Maori colleague regarding the disproportionate numbers of Maori represented in all negative social, crime, prison , education and health indices asked "Why don't we have a 'Maori Lives Matter' movement in NZ?". He laughed and said, 'you & I both know why, this country is too racist to even admit it has a problem'...

This government decision is the continuation of the structural statement that 'some lives matter more than others'. It is a decision based on class and ethnic divisions and focused squarely on the ballot-box. But it is also confirmation that the welfare state is in existence for the benefit of the middle class and the maintenance of the status quo.

Yet Sepuloni's comment is also a signal of a possible move towards the implementation of a type of social insurance model of the welfare state, which is quite different from what we have now.

Thirdly, the social contract basis of the welfare state based on taxation depends on a notion of a common interest. That is, I am prepared to pay x amount of tax because I recognize a commonality with those who receive benefits etc that I do not. To do this, I have to trust the basis of the contract, which is the government. For many in this country, the social contract has been broken long ago; this decision by the government is the attempt to continue the social contract with those who believe there may still be one. As the discussion abut a social insurance model is showing, the aim is to shift to a system of 'what is in it for me?' rather than the hopeful, societal basis of 'what is in this for others'.

However, the basis of the welfare state in NZ was, in the words of Michael Joseph Savage, applied Christianity. Brian Easton spoke of this back in 1994:

The problem of the welfare state in NZ is that it has lost sight of the values it was based in. Furthermore,the churches have lost their critical, prophetical role and do not tend to call the government to account on social inequity, especially this government.

So if the social contract has instead become a type of anti-social contract for the poor, for Maori, for those suffering structural inequity what can be done?
Perhaps we need, as uncomfortable as this may be for NZ, to have a discussion about values, as in the call for a social covenant from Rabbi Lord Sacks:

sumsuch said...

The thing about our ideals, apart from them not attracting enough people, is that they work better than the others'. How much more prepared for reality would we be now. Actually that pragmatic effect is the main thing. In these 270 years of premier living on the resources of the ages. Fairness wasn't central to this party.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Paying the newly unemployed the normal benefit would at least show them how difficult it is to live on one. Might do them and the longer term unemployed both some good given that both Labour and National pander to the middle class. Particularly those eejits who try it for a week with a full larder and a wardrobe full of clothes and tell us all it's easy.

sumsuch said...

Well said. Are there any political sales points in leaving the least of us behind and they happen to be brown? Scare the frick out of Labour who always maintain they're idealists?

I put truth first, despite the disapproval of Talleyrand. It comes around much more frequently in the modern world.