Don’t mention the ‘I’ word

The Government showed itself embarrassingly insecure about socio-economic inequality in New Zealand today by refusing leave in the House to table graphs from a recent book called The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by British researchers Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.

Green MP Kennedy Graham asked the Prime Minister if he was concerned that the UNDP’s Human Development Report 2009 shows NZ to be among the most unequal countries in the developed world. The Government transferred the question to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but it was actually answered by Attorney General Chris Finlayson on behalf of the perpetually-absent Minister.

The ‘Minister’ claimed he had not seen the report, and continued to give that answer to subsequent questions (you can read a transcript of the questions in frog’s earlier post). However this doesn’t wash, since he and his officials had been notified some five hours before question time to find this well-publicised, three-week-old report and have a quick look at it.

Kennedy’s supplementary questions focussed on the research findings in The Spirit Level, which clearly documents the close correlation between negative social indicators – health, mental health, life expectancy, violence, imprisonment, drug abuse, obesity, teenage pregnancy and more – and inequality.

This is the most important book I have read this year (along with Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth, just launched this week, but that is another blog). It graphs income disparity in a range of OECD countries against their national statistics on all these social indicators and shows a very good fit (although not perfect, and closer for some indicators than others).

It goes on to discuss the reasons – people in a very unequal society are highly stressed by trying to either preserve their place in the social hierarchy, or improve it. The interesting thing is that these negative social indicators apply to the richest in those unequal societies, as well as the poor. New Zealand scores poorly on most of these indicators, as do the US, UK and Portugal, while Japan and the Nordic countries score relatively much better.

Anyway, when Kennedy sought the leave of the House to table three particular pages of the book, National denied leave. That is an unusual thing to do. It usually occurs when people are using the tabling procedure to score political points, and the Speaker has tightened up recently on tabling documents that the House already has easy access to. This was not such a case. It is a new book, not before the House, and most people will not have heard of it. Obviously the Nats have heard of it, and realise how dangerous it would be for their political agenda if it became widely known. They would no longer, for example, be able to grandstand about crime and violence if it could be shown to be exacerbated by the rich-poor gap which Labour did little to reduce and which they are widening.

Ironically, the act of refusing leave to table it might be the very thing that brings it to public notice. It certainly prompted this blog.

You can read more about The Spirit Level and inequality research here.

[UPDATE: Video below of Kennedy tabling the documents. Relevant part starts at 5 minutes 55]

9 Comments Posted

  1. “Kennedy’s supplementary questions focussed on the research findings in The Spirit Level, which clearly documents the close correlation between negative social indicators – health, mental health, life expectancy, violence, imprisonment, drug abuse, obesity, teenage pregnancy and more – and inequality.”

    Japan doesn’t have anything like the DPB. We covered this in the tsunami of child poverty post and I got the feeling your pushing the implications a bit far by suggesting more money for welfare will cure the need for welfare (no moral hazard).

  2. kahikatea,

    What do you think would happen to a worker who refused to pay the taxes demanded of him by unscrupulous politicians for the purpose of creating slush fund to buy votes from the envious voters they endlessly pander to?

    Do you think no threats would come his way, backed up with all the might of the state?

    Here are some poverty statistics. Real poverty that is, not the “I haven’t got a widescreen TV but I have got a vote” kind that the Greens concern themselves with:
    http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats

    Why should someone be forced by the state to pay a rich Kiwi when they could help a dozen genuinely poor people for the same money?

  3. Sam –
    There are always those who believe that their natural place is to be in the top 5% of the socio-demographic spread at any time in history – their defence of that entitlement being, “because their family has always been that wealthy” (residual feudal mentality) – the extremes of wealth expressed in the USA amongst the ‘top earners’ during the recession are not seen here, but the wealthiest citizens still hanker after that level of ‘success’.

    Meanwhile, those of us who campaign for the lowest-paid, and for sustainability of lifestyle and incomes, are standing on the sidelines of the corporate media, looking in amazement at these incredibly transparently greedy people, wondering who they think they’re fooling.

    I may have to add that book to my already lengthy booklist, now that my attention’s been brought to it!

  4. “Rather than using violence to steal from people so you can indulge the envious, why don’t you instead start telling them not be so petty and jealous?”

    Good question, Wat. Why are the ruling class so petty and jealous?

    Why are they, despite their wealth, still envious of the little everyone else has? Why do they keep employing violence to steal more of the earth’s resources and to suppress those who complain? Why are they incapable of acknowleding the crimes of their forbearers in amassing wealth and their own criminal refusal to give up their stolen property?

    How can they morally justfy their perpetuation of class warfare

  5. wat dabney

    “Rather than using violence to steal from people so you can indulge the envious, why don’t you instead start telling them not be so petty and jealous?”

    still using your own eccentric definition of violence that bears no relation to common usage or the dictionary definition, I see.

  6. @Wat “Instead of indulging them, why don’t you point out the billions living in real poverty and tell them to shut up and be grateful for everything they have?”

    How about instead of indulging you we tell you to shut up and actually read what the post says instead of just bringing out the same Ayn Rand rubbish every 5 minutes. Yawn.

  7. This has much broader scope but comes to the same conclusion as a report back in the 1980’s for the FBI Behavioural Science Unit. They were wondering why Japan and Scandinavia had lower rates of crime (despite their higher levels of pornography), they found crime was more likely where there was income inequality and this was exacerbated where ethnic difference was associated with the income inequality. So they noted Japan and Scandinavia being more mono-cultural and more egalitarian had less connection to the major drivers of crime.

    America being America, this had no impact on government policy – apart from profiling the poor of ethnic groups in policing American cities and bringing religious providers into welfare delivery to manage the underclass. And I suppose encourage libertarian ideology to incultate a resistance to any change to this income inequality and of course via such offspring as the ACT party a higher prison population policy to manage the underclass.

  8. – “people in a very unequal society are highly stressed by trying to either preserve their place in the social hierarchy, or improve it.”

    Rather than using violence to steal from people so you can indulge the envious, why don’t you instead start telling them not be so petty and jealous?

    Instead of indulging them, why don’t you point out the billions living in real poverty and tell them to shut up and be grateful for everything they have?

  9. Sounds like they want to keep everyone ignorant for as long as they can.

    They will succeed if the public media allows them to sit on the information. One of our jobs it seems, is to make it public in ways the government cannot easily censor and the media has to report.

    This sort of behaviour by the government clearly indicates their approach to information that conflicts with their idiotlogical mindset.

    Thanks Jeanette

    respectfully
    BJ

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