Image: Child Poverty Monitor
John Key’s rationale for refusing to throw the state’s resources behind the call (recently made by new Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft) to reduce child poverty by 10 percent, would have to be the lamest excuse since “The dog ate my homework.” According to Key, it is too hard to measure child poverty.
Far harder to measure the number of poor children than the number of predatory pests, Key argued yesterday.
Leave aside for a moment the mentality by which poor children and pesky rodents somehow end up in the same policy response frame. Even if it was insuperably difficult to agree on a working measure for child poverty – and it isn’t – should that stop Key from joining a campaign to tackle its causes, and then worry about the measurement methodology afterwards ? Of course it doesn’t.
For starters, the Key government already sets and reports on targets in all kinds of methodologically difficult social areas, and it even sees a virtue in doing so. Here for instance, is a checklist of the government’s Better Public Services goals and its rationale for setting such targets:
These results and the targets that agencies have set for them, present a challenge – it won’t be easy. Our public sector will need to find and create opportunities for new ways of working together to achieve the results and deliver better public services. It’s what New Zealanders have told the Government they want, and deserve it. In time, this work will demonstrate innovation and improvement across a public sector that is connected and collaborative. Ministers and a public sector chief executive have been made responsible for the achievement of specific results, and for publicly reporting on progress.
Setting targets? It’s bracingly good for you! If you can claim this is a great idea in all sorts of other, equally diffuse areas – crime reduction, reduction of welfare dependency, increases in youth employment participation etc – what’s so mysteriously difficult about doing exactly the same thing about child poverty? Eighteen months ago, Jonathan Boston Victoria University’s Professor of Public Policy made that very point:
To start with, it should extend the 10 targets under its Better Public Services initiative to include child-poverty reduction goals and enunciate a strategy to achieve these goals.
Explicit targets provide a powerful signalling and commitment device. They clarify policy direction, harness the energies of government agencies, and enhance political accountability. Any targets should be ambitious but credible. Realistically, child poverty cannot be eliminated. But New Zealand could undoubtedly secure rates of child poverty and material hardship that are amongst the lowest in the world. We achieved these outcomes for retirees several decades ago. Our children deserve nothing less.
Next, the strategy should be evidence-based and informed by sound ethical principles. There is no lack of good evidence on the nature, scope and scale of child poverty in New Zealand or about why different kinds of families are poor. Equally, there is substantial international evidence about how to reduce child poverty in cost-effective ways.
As Boston has also pointed out, only last year the government signed up to the UN Millennium Development Goals which began with the pledge to halve the numbers living in poverty by 2030. So surely, this target setting thing in the field of poverty reduction can’t be impossible : we’ve already just promised the UN that we’d do it ! In the meantime though…the current government isn’t even trying to keep tabs on what its own welfare reform policies are doing to vulnerable children:
New data shows about 2000 children on any one day are living in households where their parents have lost up to half their benefits because in most cases they have failed to turn up to an appointment. Beneficiary advocates and researchers say the Government is being negligent towards these children by failing to track what’s happening to them.
So you have to ask …why is the Key government being so gun-shy when it comes to joining a multi-party, community driven response to child poverty? Answer: (a) because it fears it would lose control of the exercise, and (b) because it would become evident that some of its own policies are feeding the problem. It really is that simple. Measurement over morality, politics over principle, every time.
TPP Death Watch
On other fronts…when Key tries to display his expertise on trade policy and US politics, you really wish that he wouldn’t. Here’s Pundit Key on the TPP’s chances of being passed in the lame duck Congressional session, after the November 8 election. Allegedly, it comes down to the Republicans in general, and House Speaker Paul Ryan in particular:
“It’s all about Paul Ryan, who has got a great possibility of one day being the President some point down the track, he has been very pro-free trade,” says Mr Key. A lot of the arguments that got put to me while I was in the States were that yes it’s difficult, but Paul Ryan, he’ll be the deciding factor.”
Somehow, the news hasn’t got through to Paul Ryan who doesn’t seem to share Key’s faith that his future presidential prospects would somehow be enhanced by (a) handing a farewell victory on trade to outgoing President Barack Obama or (b) delivering an early Christmas victory on trade to incoming President Hillary Clinton, and without any attempt at addressing the flaws in the pact that the Republicans have been hammering all year. Here’s what Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have actually been saying about the TPP – either go away and rewrite it substantially, or the whole thing is doomed:
The prospects for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement coming up for a vote in Congress before the end of the year seem to dwindle as each day passes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Thursday that the political environment surrounding trade has become too “politically toxic” to bring up the 12-country agreement during the lame-duck session after November elections.
“I believe if it were brought up this year it would be defeated anyway,” said the Kentucky Republican, who generally supports trade agreement such as the TPP. McConnell added that holding a vote that is unlikely to succeed would injure future deals.
“Leading you to raise the obvious question: If you’re interested in America being in the trading business in the future, in what way is it advantageous to have a trade agreement go down? I would hope that whoever’s elected president — we can get back into having a serious discussion about the benefits to America of being in the trading business,” he added.
And Paul Ryan? He’s been against a lame duck vote on the TPP since August.
Ryan has also voiced skepticism on the TPP’s prospects, despite his personal support for trade. Some Republican lawmakers typically inclined to support trade deals have objected to some provisions in the TPP that could hurt tobacco and pharmaceutical companies.
“The Obama administration negotiated a deal that cost them dozens of votes in Congress,” Ryan said in a Wisconsin Public Radio interview in August. “The votes are not there, they have to fix this agreement and renegotiate some pieces of it if they have any hope or chance of passing it, and I think that the sand is running through the hourglass pretty fast.”
Now, the die-hard TPP believers might think that McConnell and Ryan are just foxing pre-election, in order to shore up Republican candidates who would otherwise get offside with voters who oppose free trade. In this scenario, the Republicans will revert to support the TPP once the shadow of the election has passed and will be more than happy to hand the Democrats an early Congressional victory – such being the Republicans’ alleged passion for free trade. John Key aside, there are few other subscribers to this unlikely theory. The interesting thing on this score is that Clinton supporters seem to be more positive towards free trade agreements than the current crop of Republican voters.
Currently, 45% of voters say free trade agreements have been a good thing for the United States, while about as many (47%) say they have been a bad thing.
Clinton supporters, by a wide margin (59% to 32%), view free trade agreements positively. An even larger majority of Trump supporters (68%) view them negatively. The pattern is similar in opinions about the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP),
John Coltrane, belated birthday
About ten days ago, John Coltrane would have celebrated his 90th birthday – that is, if he hadn’t died at age 40, back in 1967. From a late 1950s incarnation here is Coltrane duelling with Miles Davis on their “So What” classic from the Kind of Blue album. Interesting to watch Davis and the rest of the crew standing on the sidelines smoking, and watching on impassively, while Coltrane solos …
Davis and Coltrane again, with the pianist Bill Evans… doing a fine, airy version of the bop standard “Walkin’”
As Coltrane moved into his own in the mid 1960s… here’s a terrific version of “Impressions ” with quartet stalwarts McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and the great Elvin Jones on drums.
Finally, this documentary all but canonises Coltrane, but it does include some great footage: