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Wednesday, 6 September 2017

State Charity

I have previously tried to condemn the NZ Herald for allowing an article to be published which compared the pathetic* struggles of the middle class trying to keep up with the Jones' with the actual struggles of the poor. I have been constrained in this criticism by poor Google Fu. This time, though, I have Alan Duff and the twits at the Herald caught red-handed. It is completely unforgiveable that this was allowed to go up. It is not interesting intellectually. It is obviously wrong and trite. It has no reason to exist beyond Duff's Hosking-esque belief in his validity. Hell, at least I know this blog ain't all that.
If he truly cared he'd start with the poor first. Not in getting them subsidised state housing, higher welfare benefits, a swathe more entitlements. But in persuading a change of outlook, their diet reassessed since it is killing them, teaching restraint in all areas, from food to social interactions.
Duff is making two trite points here. Firstly, that politicians are self aggrandising blowhards who do basically everything in an attempt to build a kind of cult of personality which will win them votes. Cool. The only other idea about politicians with anything like the same level of cultural capital is basically the same but with more corruption. Secondly, this kind of individualisation of causation is absurdly common.

One of the ways to look at writing about public issues is the tension between the specific and the general. That is, generalised remarks tend to be very dry, look at a lot of data/summary statistics and lack the emotional immediacy of a case study. Yet, too much case studies means one makes anecdotal arguments, thus raising the question of whether or not it's a real concern or not. But Duff's saying that individual factors are everything. Thus, all we have to do is provide a contradiction.

We could contradict this enormous moron in several different ways. Indeed, that we can choose so many tacks is why he is clearly an enormous moron. We could talk about the human need for "frivolity", the poverty trap or the absolute failure to understand really, really basic economics:
Heroes and rebels are in every country. The ones who live in the hills and fight guerrilla and terrorist-type warfare, make strident speeches in the poor settlements, hand out a few goodies and take thrice as much back by extorting businesses who of course employ the poor - but a lot less when they have to pay protection money.
No, dickhead, labour demand depends on the broader market situation. That is, if lots of people want ice-creams, then people who can be employed in ice-cream connected firms are in demand and will be employed. Consequently, "the poor" need to have skills wanted by the market, and their skills are wanted by the market if and only if "the poor" are buying stuff. Think of it like this: individual firms and employers don't employ people, the market does and the market is nebulous and complex. Ask yourself this... are you more likely to employ John if he can demonstrate an ability to get to work reliably than if he isn't? is this connected to John's level of deprivation? Perhaps the poor are just structurally disadvantaged.

You see, the thing is that it doesn't matter how well you budget if there isn't enough money coming in to meet the expenditure outlined by the (hypothetical) perfect budget. And that's assuming the perfect budget doesn't save. Budgets are just a means of optimising given a situation: they are never a solution because that's just not what they are. If you can't find secure accommodation, for instance, you have to split time between working (harder to get... you may be moving around a lot) and trying to find accommodation. Don't you think that this inhibits one's productivity? Do you imagine the house search involves no trade-offs? And what about the boot theory?

Just think for a minute and you'll realise what a waste of space that column is. Fire Duff. Fire his editors.




* Sense three. Not that emotional struggle doesn't matter, but that emotional struggle characterises both struggles so what is relevant is the physical problem.

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