Monday 8 August 2022

Work, Work, Work!

Laughing With The Poor Folks - Or At Them? Christopher Luxon took rapper LunchMoney Lewis’s lyrics at their face value. “Bills”, as heard by Luxon, is a cri-de-cœur from a hard-working man determined to pull himself and his family up by their own bootstraps. It simply wouldn’t occur to him that LunchMoney’s rap was a tribute to his own escape from the bills ordinary people gotta pay and the “work, work, work” they gotta do to fill all those mouths they gotta feed.

“BILLS” by LunchMoney Lewis, must be the all-time strangest theme-song ever chosen by a National Party leader. Christopher Luxon made the whole weird musical theme even weirder by attempting his own personal rendition of LunchMoney’s tongue-in-cheek tribute to the world of work. 

Bizarre, because the lifestyles and values of rap artists are about as far from the hardscrabble existence of the average working family as one could imagine. LunchMoney Lewis has bills to pay, no doubt, but they are for products and services well beyond the reach of most African-Americans! This artist is a businessman.

Now, it would be nice to think that Luxon gets LunchMoney’s joke. That he understands the Kiwi battler’s bills, and his bills, are truly chalk and cheese. Such sly self-knowledge and brutal political honesty would be refreshing in our hyper-mediated world. By bounding onto the stage to LunchMoney’s rap, Luxon would be admitting (sub-textually) that a man who owns seven houses, and the centre-right party he leads, are cats every bit as fat as the Florida rapper. Such transparent inauthenticity would, paradoxically, make the Leader of the Opposition a more – not less – authentic politician.

But, that would be too much to hope for. In all probability, Luxon took LunchMoney’s lyrics at their face value. “Bills”, as heard by Luxon, is a cri-de-cœur from a hard-working man determined to pull himself and his family up by their own bootstraps. It simply wouldn’t occur to him that LunchMoney’s rap was a tribute to his own escape from the bills ordinary people gotta pay and the “work, work, work” they gotta do to fill all those mouths they gotta feed.

Luxon’s crude literalism is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s use of Bruce Springsteen’s anthem “Born in the USA” in his re-election campaign of 1984. The Gipper simply had no idea that Springsteen’s song was about the tormented existence of a Vietnam veteran robbed of his buddies, his peace of mind, and the possibility of a good life, by the murderous demands of Uncle Sam.

“America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts”, intoned Reagan. “It rests in the message of hope in songs of a man so many young Americans admire, New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about.”

In the end, being born in the USA was the only thing the song’s hero had left. Far from being a hymn of praise to Reagan’s “shining city on a hill”, Springsteen’s song is laced with bitter irony and bankrupted hope. It is, however, doubtful that Reagan ever realised his mistake.

Doubtful, too, that Luxon’s journey into the bright lights and dark alleys of popular culture will be a long one. Doubtless, there is a huge amount to be learnt from the rappers and hip-hop artists of South Auckland. Who knows what insights he might come away with if he sat down with them in a place without cameras, without microphones, and just listened to the life-stories of these often spectacularly successful artists and businessmen?

That is, after all, what another National Party leader, Rob Muldoon, did, more than 40 years ago, with representatives of Black Power and the Mongrel Mob. The Project Employment Programmes which, in part, grew out of these encounters, set many young gang prospects on a new path, leading them away from crime, and towards steady employment, family life, and an altogether more productive existence.

Rob Muldoon sat his final accountancy examinations in between fighting the Germans in Italy in 1944. He became a moderately successful businessman, comfortably off, but not rich: an Auckland suburbanite with a family bach at Orewa. The National Party he came to lead was a huge organisation, filled with people very like himself. The experience of “The War” bound National Party members together in those days – as it did Labour’s. What came to be called the “RSA Generation” understood that, when the bullets start flying, who your father is and where you went to school doesn’t matter a damn. Character is not determined by class – but by courage.

Luxon’s speech to the National Party’s annual conference could have used the Covid-19 Pandemic – the closest contemporary New Zealanders have come to the solidarities and vicissitudes of war – as a new starting-point for the state’s efforts to get disengaged young jobseekers into the habits of learning and working that the whole country so desperately needs them to acquire.

He came close:

National believes those closest to the problems should be closest to the answers. That’s why we back community-led solutions. For example, the Covid vaccine roll-out showed that bureaucrats in Wellington don’t always know best how to reach people. Just ask the Māori organisations who had to take the Government to court so they could get people vaccinated.

If young New Zealanders are to re-engage with learning and working successfully, it will be through the efforts of autonomous, community-driven initiatives akin to those that ensured Māori rates of vaccination matched those of the rest of the population. The key words here are “autonomous” and “community-driven”.

Sadly, National’s policy-makers lack the courage to trust the poor to take charge of their own destiny. Luxon’s plans for moving young jobseekers “From Welfare To Work” (where have we heard that slogan before?) by contracting “community groups” to “coach” the long-term unemployed out of their “welfare dependency” and into paid employment, will undoubtedly be met with the approval of conservative New Zealanders. Many will welcome the reappearance of Bill English’s “social investment” approach. But, will it work?

Those on the receiving end of policies setting them up as “suitable cases for treatment” are seldom grateful. Community organisations funded by the tax-payer have a long history of offering their “clients” little more than the condescension of middle-class professionals. Before successful coaching can begin, it is necessary to have a team. If National could only find the courage to allow these teams to form themselves, with sufficient resources to hire their own coaches, then the party’s social investment policies just might succeed.

Taken in its entirety, LunchMoney Lewis’s rap is not the positive statement Christopher Luxon obviously believes it to be. In the accompanying video, the artist makes clear his scepticism that the “work, work, work” of ordinary people will ever get them out from under all those bills. Rappers speak of a world rigged by the Man, for the Man. That’s why they portray working for the Man as a fool’s game. Luxon and the National Party would have a lot more credibility if they offered the young unemployed the chance to become their own bosses.

Then they’d be businessmen. And businessmen don’t have bills – they have accounts payable. And, as the former CEO of Air New Zealand knows, the larger your pile of accounts payable, the more likely it is that someone else will pay them for you.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 8 August 2022.


CXH said...

'National’s policy-makers lack the courage to trust the poor to take charge of their own destiny'.

They have had that opportunity for the last 5 years and we have what. Rising numbers under 25 with no interest in work and likely to stay that way for the indefinite future. So continuing the same behaviour is pointless.

Then again the left have no real aim to solve poverty. They need them to give them someone to point at, claim it was all the Right's fault and promise riches for their votes.

Archduke Piccolo said...

All the 'coaching' and 'incentives' and 'support groups' and 'further education' and 'training' (especially at the trainee's own expense), ain't gonna achieve diddly squat unless there is some prospect - some REAL prospect - of a an actual paying job at the end of it. One for which the training was received. If a guarantee of paid work - you know, full time employment - is unreasonable to expect, then the next best thing ought to follow from the training.

But prospects for school leavers took a huge knock with Roger and Ruth's extinction of Government funded vocational training schemes (among other acts of vandalism) that were such a feature of the state sector nearly 40 years ago. I, and three of my brothers, began our full time working careers through such entry level training schemes. In today's world, I don't know what we would have done.


Kat said...

Show us the money, show us the money, show us the money........

David George said...

Chris: "the National Party would have a lot more credibility if they offered the young unemployed the chance to become their own bosses."

The previous National government had programmes specifically aimed at that. Training courses and start up loans, that sort of thing. They mostly failed once the money ran out unfortunately.

Perhaps it's about time we recognised the limitations of the Central State and it's ability to solve any and all problems. Time to look elsewhere?

"There’s a great deal of vanity involved in all of this. Our political elites, encouraged by a priestly caste of experts, love to pose as miracle-workers. To them, and to us who elect them to office, I would every day recite Ormerod’s final dictum: “We may intend to achieve a particular outcome, but the complexity of the world, even in apparently simple situations, appears to be so great that it is not within our power to ordain the future.” Only when this lesson is internalised will we begin to emerge from the age of failure."

DS said...

Recall the actual result of Reagan in 1984.

It's not as if misunderstanding lyrics ever lost anyone votes.

David George said...

Despite the idiotic "beneficiary bashing" National's plan to help the longer term unemployed is a good one, Labour appear to have given up and prefer to ignore the problem.

Bryce Edwards:

"Luxon’s so-called “carrot and stick” approach is significantly more carrot than stick at the moment. This will make the policy much more attractive to many who voted Labour in 2020.

Under this policy, National would give more resources to help the long-term unemployed in this age group to find employment – in particular by paying for a “job coach” and individualised plan to help them into the work force. And once in a job for 12 months, these former Job Seekers get a $1000 incentive payment."

Interesting that the latest polls show a big slide in support for Labour from women. Perhaps the right wing parties need to draw more attention to Labour and, in particular, the Greens betrayal of women for all things trans - men in women's sports and so on.

"Sometimes it’s difficult to understand why so many feminists continue to feel any loyalty to the mainstream left. A left that, broadly speaking, regards them at best as obsolete old hags and at worst as dangerous fascists. It is remarkable that so many women are being physically harassed by those they would otherwise regard as comrades. And the fact that the Labour leadership hasn’t extended them a sniff of solidarity is telling. It speaks not only of its disregard for the insight and commitment of gender-critical women, most of whom are experienced political activists, but also of the left’s insular and myopic worldview.

In a few years’ time, the Labour Party’s sex-denying rhetoric will be as anachronistic and embarrassing as its members who still cling to a political model that was torn down with the Berlin Wall. The debate on gender is happening, and the conversation is moving on. Now it’s time the Labour Party and the left caught up."

greywarbler said...

David George
I note you put Bryce Edwards name up above a discourse about the state of the market in political leanings at present. It seems to take a strong stance on little grounds on a few points. Women sliding away from Labour for instance.
There would be many reasons more than those referred to. I can't see this hotch-potch of ideas being enlightening about the multiple problems besetting the citizen and so not helpful in dealing to them.

Of course, with our past political dealings in mind, one of the problems citizens face is the realisation that we can't trust politicians. We can't be sure that they will carry out their stated aims, we can't be sure that what is actually done will be done in the light of past learned experience as to 'best practice'. we can't be sure that we will all be better off with a vast improvement for us and only a tiny loss of amenity etc. So saying that Luxon is holding out more carrot and stick is just words appraising a possibility that can vanish. We used to have case managers who helped people, so what's NEW and
will it be concentrating on hustling someone into employment, any employment. Government is now regarding organic people as second grade workers, all things considered, and in the case of Kiwis third grade; robotisation rules okay.

Is this fascism or leading to it I wondered? To get a brief summary of fascism I googled and can see why we are having trouble working out how or what we are doing from excerpt below. I think we have to start from the bottle and draw in ideologies as giving assistance in achieving or showing how they could veer away from our required route and practices. What do we want is first question, how will it be achieved and what monetary and other costs will apply, what methods to be employed, who will benefit, how will perceived problems be handled, what method for unperceived problems, and so on. Then we can prioritise between the
listed ideas and possible projects put forward and try to be rational, not rationalise.
There has been considerable disagreement among historians and political scientists about the nature of fascism. Some scholars, for example, regard it as a socially radical movement with ideological ties to the Jacobins of the French Revolution, whereas others see it as an extreme form of conservatism inspired by a 19th-century backlash against the ideals of the Enlightenment. Some find fascism deeply irrational, whereas others are impressed with the rationality with which it served the material interests of its supporters.

Anonymous said...

Classic article and i love the ending. The irony is that Luxon and his real constituency, the predatory extractavist parasitic corporate elites, are the real beneficiaries of large amounts of "social welfare" from mugginses taxpayers like me and you. Endless subsidies, cheap state assets, lax tax laws and taxfree offshore bases, cartel like markets etc etc. But who better to distract peoples attention with than those undeserving unemployed youth! Tough on crime and tough on the undeserving poor!

Just a thought- your photo would make you quite a passable Stalin or failing that Big Brother. Keep up the great work.