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CALEB ANDERSON: Root cause of poverty

Yesterday I shopped in a large central Auckland supermarket. I was served by a very efficient and friendly checkout operator who moved to NZ six months ago from India to join some members of her family. When I asked her how she had found NZ, she responded that she could not believe how bad crime was here. Just the week before two female shoppers had loaded their trolley and commenced to leave the supermarket without paying. After an altercation with security they left, without their goods, but free to have another go somewhere else. My conversation with this supermarket employee got me thinking. I don't want to be disrespectful to India. I don't know much about India, and I have never visited there. I also know some amazing Indian New Zealanders just for the record. They seem to me to make hard-working, respectful, and law-abiding citizens by and large. But I kind of imagined that crime would be far worse there than it is here. Maybe it is, but seemingly not in the mind of this lady. Perhaps this lady simply expected crime to be very much lower in NZ given our comparative privilege. I guess I had imagined crime would be worse there than here because India is per capita a much poorer country than NZ. I have seen photographs of people in India rummaging on scrapheaps for food or anything salvageable. They seem not to have any significant state-funded welfare system, hospitals seem largely inaccessible to the poor, and people seem (and I say seem) to be left to their own devices, or the support of their families. What we have been told increasingly, and very loudly, by left-wing activists is that crime is a direct function of poverty. That if the system was kinder and more generous to the "poor", people would not be committing crimes, at least not in the way, or to the degree, we are currently seeing. The answer we are told is, by and large, as simple as wealth distribution. The implication is that if we give people more money, they will be much less likely to commit crimes. This is precisely the Maori and Green Party policy. Redistribute wealth, close prisons, give people a voice, provide them with comfortable homes and all will be well. But if all of this was true, NZ would have less crime than India, and less crime than almost anywhere else, and this should have been the case for a very long time. If this was true people would not be stealing cars, laptops, sports gear, or vaping pens. They would be stealing basic necessities. Further, if the left explanation for poverty was true we would notice an inverse relationship between benefit levels and crime. When benefits go up, crime goes down. Are we seeing this, any of this? We all know that we are not. Recently I blogged my view that the real crisis in NZ, and in the West more generally is a crisis of virtue, and especially of duty, of duty to family, to others, and to country. Duty to make your own way, and expect nothing material as of right. I am NOT saying that people do not need a hand up, that society shouldn't watch out for the less fortunate. I guess I am saying that to expect someone to turn up to work, and to remember that wealth is generated by someone's effort somewhere, are reasonable expectations ... and to claim some of that wealth as though you are entitled to it is theft. One of the biggest problems in left-wing thinking is the idea that people are fundamentally good, and that bad systems make them do bad things. This idea is far too simplistic. While it does bear an element of truth, it is no more true than the assertion that people can also do bad things when they are allowed to get away with it, when it makes life easier for them, or when they are simply angry that someone has something that they do not have. The solution to poverty, at least in part, is an expectation of turning up to work, of paying your own way, of taking responsibility for those nearest to you, of grasping opportunities that do come your way, of turning up to school, and of seeing welfare as a bridge towards independence. I get a sense that our new government gets this.

Caleb Anderson, a graduate history, economics, psychotherapy and theology, has been an educator for over thirty years, twenty as a school principal.

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