Saturday, 23 May 2009

Mt Albert musings

So fixated has the media become on Melissa Lee's oopsies - waiting like vultures for her next fuck up, and ignoring the competent things she must surely have said and done on the campaign trail - that political issues have become rather secondary in the Mount Albert by-election.

In an attempt to bring some balance to its shallowness, the media recently focused on criticism copped by David Shearer, for a remark linking unemployment to crime. Sign of the times, I thought to myself in a curmudgeonly way. Shearer was simply suggesting that unemployment produces poverty, which can drive crime. He was alluding to a point that the Keynesian welfare state was founded on - the opportunity for paid work is a basic right, a social good, and important to human wellbeing. When people who want work can't find it, they are effectively being told that they are a redundant part of their society - and this isn't conducive to their psychological or material welfare. That's why, until twenty or so years ago, the state believed it had moral duties to strive towards full employment, and to support those who couldn't find work to live with some measure of dignity.

Shearer's comments have been construed as an attack on the dignity of the unemployed - as if unemployment is simply a different, if less lucrative, lifestyle choice to working, and something which must be put up with. Unemployment is an attack on the dignity of the unemployed. Encouraging the unemployed to feel more comfortable with the injustice of unemployment is a pretty poor substitute for jobs.


Cactus Kate said...

Shearer specifically linked ethnic groups to unemployment...therefore crime.

That's something that European men from a right wing party are prohibited from doing without all sorts of evils being shouted.

Shearer, being European and a pinko appears to get away with it.

Go figure.

Anna said...

Thanks for the angry rhetoric, Kate.

When people from various parts of the political spectrum discuss the ethnic element of unemployment, it is different. If you subscribe to a political philosophy that says unemployment is a personal failure and should be addressed with punitive welfare policies, you are saying something quite different about affected ethnic groups to the person who sees unemployment as a structural feature of the economy which the state has a responsibility to address.

Go figure. It'll do you good.

Cactus Kate said...

Angry? Where? Goodness, I wasn't even trying.

What you are saying then is that depending on what political party you support, limits what you can and can't say about unemployment?


Does the political left have a central organisation where we can submit our comments to get them analysed for acceptability?

AWicken said...

But surely there IS a fundamental difference between the perspective that:

"the economy is failing and causing unemployment, particularly in certain ethnic/social communities, which in turn increases the crime perpetration and victimisation in those and surrounding communities";

and the perspective that:

"more of 'these people' are choosing to lose their jobs and turn to crime, preying on good honest 'our people' who choose to work for a living"?

Just to make Anna's eloquent point slightly more blunt.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Deborah said...

That last comment is clearly from a troll.

John said...

Err, I dont think he/she is a troll. Just because they disagree doesn't automatically make them a troll. We are not in kindergarten.

Shearer did say that and he's getting off scot free. Where is the consistency?

Anna said...

Agreed, Deborah - trollage deleted.

Kate and John, have another read of the post, and of AWicken's summary. To reiterate the fundamental point: treating unemployment as individual failure is different from treating it as a failure of macroeconomic policy.

If you can't understand and debate that point, there's not much purpose in you responding to this post. There actually are intelligent critiques that can be made of this argument from the right of the spectrum, and you've hit on none of them.

If you want to make further comments on this topic, try to make them informed and logical. Otherwise, go to Kiwiblog, where people don't mind having their time wasted.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Helen said...

Hmmn, I agree that trolls should be taken out if they are troublesome, but it is a little dangerous to delete because you don't agree with them. The comment you deleted was not at all nasty compared to the horrid stuff I have seen here from real trolls.

Andrew said...

This is all totally nuts. Let's take a look at the facts, shall we? Melissa Lee made a comment which pretty much implied that everyone in South Auckland is a criminal. Now this is obviously complete rubbish.

David Shearer, on the other hand, spoke of how unemployment has debilitating effects - both physically and emotionally - and of how this can lead ultimately to criminal activity. It's a very simple and proven point. It's not racist: yes, he mentioned Pacific Island communities specifically, and migrant communities in general. THIS IS NOT RACIST!!!

Why is this not racist? Because he was not doing this to humiliate or oppress. He was merely pointing out that in the lower Auckland socio-economic groups immigrants are highly represented. Others are too, of course: for instance, unskilled Pakeha. But the lowest of the low tend to be migrant groups. This is, for the benefit of our tory readers, a natural part of the capitalist system they love so much: it's all about winners and losers, folks.

O.k., so even if you accept that South Auckland is a crime haven, why did Melissa Lee even bring it up? This is a very important point, and will explain why the centre-left candidate said nothing offensive, but the centre-right one did. Shearer was analysing our current socio-economic plight from a traditional Labour Party Keynesian perspective: he apportioned no blame to the system's victims, other than to say that crime can - only CAN - be a result of endemic, generational unemployment.

Lee, however, used the unenviable situation of the lives of typical South Aucklanders to say "they're bad, they're after you, we'll make you safe". No attempt to analyse why some of these people might turn to crime. Just a case of "I'm alright, Jack, and let's barricade ourselves off from the riff-raff".

Shearer was accused of, at best, being clumsy. He wasn't. He may however have become clumsy as he found himself having to try to justify his comments in the succeeding days. You could just see him wondering what to say next, as obviously, to him, he'd said nothing at all controversial.

It's been telling too that he seems to have received no real support from Phil Goff or others in the Labour hierarchy. Sadly this seems to be indicative of how far we've descended down the centre-right road. Shearer said nothing that shouldn't be a staple of his party's philosophy and yet, with the Keynesian consensus apparently shot to pieces, the best the guy could seemingly hope for from his colleagues was silence.

Does that now make the candidates comments and the subsequent fall-out of each quite clear? If not please feel free to respond: I'd be more than happy to clarify further if needed.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anna said...

Hi Helen

We've had one or more trolls posing as feminists to derail discussions, and I'm reasonably confident that the deleted Anon was one of these.

My THM colleagues won't necessarily agree with me, but I value this blog as a place where people can have informed, reasonable discussion, regardless of their place on the political spectrum. Obviously, the bloggers are from the left, but all enjoy and welcome informed debates - and there are few places where these can happen. THM isn't here to provide a platform for crap - that's what talkback's for.

Comments which actually have no substance, are made only to annoy other people, or which just take the piss, don't encourage debate. They just discourage people who do have an interest in quality discussion from participating.

Throwing around terms like 'pinko' and 'we're not in kindergarten' doesn't actually contribute to debate at all. There are plenty of economic, historical and philosophical arguments that can be made against this post, and I look forward to seeing some well-thought out objections from people who don't agree. I'm not holding my breath, mind you.

I'll point anyone who doesn't agree with my moderation decision to the comments policy - if you don't like the way this or any other post is moderated, the policy will tell you what to do about it. We don't do moderation debates on threads.


stargazer said...

absolutely agree with everything you've said anna. also, andrew, agree with most of what you've said as well. i'd say however, that phil goff kept quiet so that the candidate could show he could deal with the situation. after all, david shearer has to be able to deal with all sorts of issues, best he speaks up for himself rather than have others rush in to defend him. the latter would have much much more out of this than it is ie a comment about the systematic issues arising from unemployment with no victim-blaming involved.

Marymary said...

Ok, let me try. David Shearer said "crime is higher amongst migrant and polynesian communities as they have higher unemployment rates" on TV. Fact.

Why isn't this being criticised? Sure Lee was stupid for saying the motorway would stop crime coming over, albeit she was quoting from police HQ - so maybe we should be evenhanded about this?


Oh and the anon commenters that you deleted didn't say pinko. I saw them both and they only differed from your point of view, that was it. I know you've been having a rough time lately but that was a little OTT.

katy said...

"Why isn't this being criticised?"

What do you find offensive about Shearer's statement? I feel like Anna has covered the topic thoroughly and well but maybe there is something I am missing??

Anita said...


You say "fact" but I honestly don't remember seeing him say that, and I've done a quick search around the net and can't find him saying that.

Can you provide a linky?

Anna said...

Marymary, the pinko comment wasn't made by the Anon I deleted - I raised this in relation to the general calibre of comments happening around here. I've explained why I deleted the comment, and I've also asked commentators not to debate moderation decisions here, but contact THM if you have concerns - I'd be grateful if you could respect this.

The point you raise about Shearer has been raised several times, and answered several times, so there's probably not much point going over it again.

Marymary said...

He said it on TVNZ - so I can't get the clip for you I'm afraid. I don't think that is an excuse to gloss over it thats all.

Plus that remark is on par with what Lee said, but yet you seem to want to ignore it. If an ACT candidate said that there was more crime with Maori and Pasifica everybody would be all over him/her. I just assumed he would get the same treatment here. :(

stargazer said...

sorry mary, it's not on par, and that has been explained very well several times above. also, without the benefit of a link, it's quite possible that you have paraphrased what you want to think david shearer said.

Marymary said...

But it has been mentioned on other blogs as well, and I saw it on TVNZ which others have noted elsewhere. That's not fair - if I can't find the TVNZ soundbite, that you say it isn't true.

The issue is he said it and it's unfair some balance isn't being applied. I'd have thought Shearer would be the last Labour candidate you'd want on board. He's well on the right of Labour.

stargazer said...

sorry marymary, but tvnz has video archives, it wouldn't take you long to find the quote if you wanted to. and if it has been quoted all over the media, then find us just one link proving that he has said those exact words. google is your friend.

and your claim about shearer being "well to the right" is just plain funny. no substance to it at all.