The New Zealand Herald recently posted the opinion piece, ‘Poor’ should stop playing the blame game by Eva Bradley a highly successful young business woman. In her article she offers a diatribe in relation to poor people blaming the government for, well, their poverty. Hedley goes on to deny the existence of ‘The War on the Poor’ in New Zealand while speaking its rhetoric in her article. She holds some pretty pervasive beliefs when it comes to poverty, mainly based on her own anecdotal experience and not on fact or reality. The only evidence she uses to back up her position was from a study by a Washington ‘think-tank’. She stated
“This month a Washington-based think-tank concluded that of 130 countries, New Zealand was the most socially advanced in the world. We got an A+ for personal rights, freedoms, access to schooling, tolerance for minority groups and good water and sanitation.”
The Index used in the study Bradley cites to measure how socially advanced we are left out “indicators such as the employment rate and income inequality” as the New Zealand Herald indeed reported. So basically, the two things that really contribute to growing poverty in NZ were not a part of the study. In New Zealand we do not imprison activists and people who identify as lesbian or gay are able to marry which certainly makes us more socially advanced than other countries but this does not mean we do not have economic disparities.
The book Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis Edited by Max Rashbrooke points out “in a mere 10 years, the financial economy in 1997 went from being 15 times greater than the real economy to 70 times greater than the real economy by 2007.” What many social activists and people in poverty are “whinging about” is a serious gap between the rich and poor – which is very real.
“The gap between high and low incomes has widened faster in recent decades in NZ than in most other developed nations” and “Across all adults the top 1% owns three times as much wealth as the poorest 50%”.
This widening gap between rich and poor is one of the reasons the Occupy Movement was born, and why millions of people from all ages, religions, economic positions and races came out demanding more economic responsibility. They highlighted the fact that most of the world’s wealth is concentrated in just 1% of the world’s population.
People who joined or supported the Occupy Movement knew that all this money the superrich where clinging to would never “trickle-down” to the masses – something which politicians had promised us for decades would happen. In essence this Trickle-down economics can be summed as the idea that by giving big business and the super-rich massive tax breaks, this would benefit poorer members of society by improving the economy as a whole. It didn’t. As Economist George Reisman said while discussing trickle-down economics…
“Of course, many people will characterize the line of argument I have just given as the ‘trickle-down’ theory. There is nothing trickle-down about it. There is only the fact that capital accumulation and economic progress depend on saving and innovation and that these in turn depend on the freedom to make high profits and accumulate great wealth. The only alternative to improvement for all, through economic progress, achieved in this way, is the futile attempt of some men to gain at the expense of others by means of looting and plundering. This, the loot-and-plunder theory, is the alternative advocated by the critics of the misnamed trickle-down theory”
I am not saying this is third world misery, what I am saying is there is plenty of wealth around that people can see, it’s just not in their own pockets. So when parents encourage “their children to hurl abuse at our leaders” perhaps the abuse is warranted? John Key in one way or another subscribes to trickle-down economics he is just not that open about it. In his first term he gave tax cuts to high income earners and companies. He said it would boost the economy because these people would have incentive to earn more which would create jobs. As the Labour Party reports, “Since 2010 National have been promising there are 170,000 jobs going to be created, but they never come, instead we have an additional 60,000 people on benefits since they took office.”
Low income families and those in poverty know they are being screwed and John knows he is screwing them.
Bradley went on to say, “The difference between my upbringing and consequent position in life compared to those encouraging their children to hurl abuse at our leaders and blame them for their struggle is largely one of attitude.” Clearly she is not big on parents raising their children to fight for equality or encouraging them to become thinking beings who want social change. Summed up, Bradley seems to believe the only factor you need in life to pull yourself out of poverty is to be raised with the same belief system she was, “with hard work and commitment, I could achieve whatever I applied myself to”.
Apparently Bradley justifies her strong stance on ‘those poor people’ because she was in fact “…a child of relative poverty myself, growing up in a single-parent home”, she appears to believe poor people just need to stop their “whinging”. Hedley pulled herself out of “relative poverty” so why can’t other people? The problem with her position is, it is akin to when white people say “I am not racist but…”. Just because you came from a low income family or y’know sometimes you like to rough it and hung out with poor people, does not mean you now magically have some kind of authority when it comes to understanding the poverty trap.
Bradley happily points out she is a “white middle-class professional” – just because you acknowledge your white privilege does not mean you understand it. Or though there are more Pākehā in poverty than Māori, poverty impacts Māori more “acutely”. A conclusion the book Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis reached was that “10 Pakeha households live in poverty, 1 in every 5 Māori and Pacific households live in poverty.” Bradley needs to take a class in the systematic oppression of the indigenous people of Aotearoa. As Martyn Bradbury points out…
“Māori had 95% of their land appropriated and alienated between 19th Century and 20th Century. (Compensation for the almost complete loss of an economic base in just over a century? A mere $1.4Billion in Treaty settlements. A steal at twice the price you might say. Not only have Maori been ripped off, but they are also forced to live in poverty with the reality of generation’s worth of being ripped off. Insult to injury, jowl by blistered jowl. “
I admire women like Bradley, who in a world that so vehemently tells women to shrink themselves she has carved out a highly successful career in multiple industries dominated by men. What I do not admire are people who perpetuate damaging myths and ideas in relation to the poverty trap. Who cannot grasp the over-arching systems which have and continue to oppress people who are struggling to rise above the poverty line.