Tim Watkins has written a piece on Labour’s Best Start policy.
Down in the comments were the most incredible remarks I have read in support of the policies.
They cut through all of criticism of the policy in way which I had not seen before and well, basically, they blew my little mind. The comments were written by Ian Hassall, New Zealand’s first Children’s Commisioner. Here is the exchange between Tim and Ian…
Ian:Tim, one of the arguments for universalism you missed was that it places a value directly on children and the people who care for them, whatever their financial circumstances. Since Labour’s policy announcement the arguments for and against that I have seen have been mainly economic, incentive, political and moral. The signal that children are valued and can be central to a new politics whose values differ from those of the last thirty years is central to what I understood David Cunliffe to be saying.
Tim: Ian, I’d be interested in your take on this, especially as you mention morality. Is it economically and morally sound to simply give money to almost all parents who have a baby?
You mention incentives, but there are no incentives involved in this, no quid pro quo the recipients have to offer in return for the rest of us offering them financial support. So presumably the argument is simply that $60 a week – or to be less cynical, some form of state support – should be the right of every citizen? Because otherwise you’d target it, wouldn’t you? Really, why not target this?
And what values from 30 years ago are you refering to? The value of the same for all?
Ian: No, I think the argument goes that children are of value to society and that the time, love and material investment made by parents and others in the early years has a payoff for society as Heckman has shown. A cash subsidy acknowledges this. The values system that denies these things is encapsulated in the saying, ‘There is no such thing as society’. This values system which has held sway in public policy for thirty years and contributed to the atomisation of a generation is not capable of sustaining our civilisation and needs to be replaced as the dominant driver by an alternative set of values.An alternative set of values which includes compassion, selflessness and a longer term perspective is typically what is evoked by caring for children, and can be encouraged by a public policy in which children’s needs and
interests are central. A society that looks after its children is an agreeable society and one that has a future.
This is not to deny that rampant greed and selfishness is one, possibly essential, driver of our society, which you will have been reminded of if you saw the movie, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, or if you read the ‘Alex’ cartoons in the Herald but it should be put back in its box and not contaminate public discourse and public policy.
From this perspective, the criticisms of Labour from John Key are irrelevant and petty and the true motivations of Nationals policies can be seen for what they are: election year concessions from a party that no longer believes in society.
The Labour party is slowly becoming old school again. Not 1984 old school…proper old school. It started With the membership’s victory last year and now the policies are starting to come out. They may be fumbling the ball a bit, they may not have the slickness of Key but what they are doing…is the right thing.