Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Work. Dole. Alms. Key. Platitudes.

It's as impossible for to summon up any enthusiasm for John Boy Key's impending 'State of the Nation' speech as it is for John Boy to speak a whole sentence that means something.

Today is apparently the day he talks about New Zealand's "underclass." About work-for-the-dole. Lindsay Mitchell asks the relevant questions:
Why work-for-the-dole when employers are crying out for labour?

Why not work-and-no-dole?
Why indeed? Why give alms to the idle -- alms taken from the energetic and productive against their will. Liberty Scott has a more radical and -- let's face it -- a more honest solution:
Personally I'd start reform of the dole by putting a one-year limit on it, and you wouldn't be able to claim more than three years in your life. I'd also stop inflation-indexing it, so that as people's backstop it gradually becomes less and less attractive, encouraging people to save or to take out income insurance... That reform would be in the context of a coalition government, and it would just be start; serious reform would put a one-year time limit on the dole, after which it would be abolished.
Naturally, this could only take place in an economy in which the labour market is freed up by removing restrictions on hiring and firing -- encouraging labour mobility -- and by removing restrictive minimum wage laws, which help keep the low paid out of a job.

And wouldn't it just be nice if beneficiaries were grateful for those giving them money for nothing -- money extracted from the rest of us by force?

UPDATE 1: Here, for what it's worth, is John Boy's speech. If you had to take a drink every time you spotted a platitude, it'd be a very messy afternoon indeed.
  • "We have, over generations, evolved a set of essential New Zealand values, attitudes and shared experiences. These represent what I call 'The Kiwi Way'."

  • "I want to get alongside the amazing groups that make a difference to our communities."
  • "I know we can do better. We have to do better. Because, left unchecked, the problems of a growing underclass affect us all."

  • "National will use the welfare system, on behalf of all New Zealanders, to motivate long-term beneficiaries to change their lives for the better. Where we give opportunity we will expect responsibility."

  • "These are tough problems. But I have no intention of being a Prime Minister who tackles only the easy and convenient issues."

  • "Today, I say to all Kiwis that I want you to dare to think what New Zealand can be like and what all our lives can be like."

  • "I believe the best years for New Zealand are ahead of us. As a nation, we have everything to look forward to."

  • "We can be a country that is coming together; not a country that is coming apart."
  • Blah, blah, blah. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. I believe that children are our future. Going forward together. A hand up, not a hand out. Apple pie and motherhood.

Nothing that either Jenny Shipley or Helen Clark or even the Women's Weekly wouldn't be heard saying, but in John Boy's case he actually believes this waffle. The man's a walking platitude.

But so much for the platitudes, what about the solutions? What about the policies? He has got some policies, hasn't he? Hasn't he? You know, something to show that there's a reason he wanted the leader's job, beyond just really, really wanting the leader's job?

Policies? Any at all?

Ah, no. Not yet. Not just at this precise minute. But they are going to work really hard on that real soon. Really hard. You see, "these are tough problems," says John Boy -- really, really tough problems -- so "in all areas of social policy," he says, "I am tasking [tasking?] National's spokespeople to come up with policies to address the deep-seated problems in some of our families and communities." Oh good. I look forward to hearing back from the 'tasked spokespeople' when they have 'completion on their spokes-tasks.' That should be really exciting. Just think, if they stay up all night, they might even come up with some really good solutions!

Well, at least the Herald's John Armstrong will be excited. I look forward to his panegyric to John Boy's wisdom in tomorrow's rag. As for me, this is just another smug, platitudinous, policy-free nail in a very empty coffin.

Don Brash when he left Parliament listed as one of his achievements that he had changed Orewa from a location into a date, so that people began talking of pre-Orewa and post-Orewa. I don't think anyone will be talking about pre-Burnside or post-Burnside any time soon, but if the hollow platitudes continue, how long before they start talking about pre-Key and post-Key?

UPDATE 2: Plenty of bloggers already running their rules over all the platitudes. In a first for me, I did enjoy this comment from Labour hack Jordan Carter.
This is Key's fifth year in parliament. The only policy suggestions he's come up with is school breakfasts, and accessible sports opportunities.
Perhaps the most damning is this, again from Jordan:
The fact that I would struggle to disagree with much that is in the speech... seems to me to be a slight misjudgement on Key's part.
LINKS: Working for other people's money unfair - Liberty Scott
Questions for the Maori Party - Lindsay Mitchell

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Politics-National, Welfare


  1. Robert Winefield30 Jan 2007, 14:45:00

    Christ! If National fire Key & English, who in the hell is going to lead them then?

    Are they going to draw straws? Short straw gets you the leadership and a target on your back...

  2. We're left with Judith Collins, sadly. She's not perfect, but she will have to do.

  3. Hmmm, since Blair joined the National party, it has been downhill....

  4. Over the last few years you keep hearing of potential National coups, starting with Brash's. I wonder when the next we hear of will be.

  5. In fact children ARE our future. You are going to get old and want well educated doctors etc.

    Purely from a selfish point of view you should take an interest in parenting and the future of our youth, and look to the root cause of the 'mean streets' phenomenon, which is by no means confines to poor areas with Maaris on the dole - or people who deal with WINZ. -Mitchell is wrong and confusing correlation with causation as usual. Botany Downs is now unsafe at night. Highland Park has morphed into gangland with people too scared to work there.

    Longterm benefit dependency is a problem to be sure,and regularly trotted out as the standardised cause of all our ills,but it goes way deeper than that.

    IMO the elephant in the living room is the schools. They are *creating* 'underclass' - not helping them.

  6. "In fact children ARE our future."

    I think that's the point of a platitude?

    "IMO the elephant in the living room is the schools. They are *creating* 'underclass' - not helping them.

    Yep, no question about that. No question at all.


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