Incentives, not redistribution.
A brilliant column by Noel Pearson on the white ghetto of Claymore. Unbelievably, the previous Labor administration was going to get rid of the problem by bulldozing the suburb!
Ferguson reported the NSW Labor government resolved with its federal counterpart to bulldoze Claymore and start again – apparently as easy as pressing the erase button on the social planners’ electronic whiteboards. After demolishing 90 houses the policy has been on hold because the O’Farrell government says there is no budget to complete the plan.
Pearson identified the same cycle of disadvantage that he was trying to overcome in his own part of the world. The difference is that the eyes of the world are to some extent focussed on the problems in the outback but the white ghettos are under the radar until something happens like a riot and people start throwing stones at paramedics and ambulances.
Kerry O’Brien laid out some statistics: 2.2 million Australians live below the poverty line. More than 600,000 children under 15 live in households where no one has a job. He went on: “So what do we draw from that? I guess that in one of the wealthiest countries on the face of the earth, with an economy that’s largely flying high and unemployment quite low, we still can’t crack Australia’s significant cycle of poverty.” O’Brien’s point is a cliche, but being so doesn’t make it untrue. What is to be done about places such as Claymore?
This is the signal to blame the one percent, neoliberalism, capitalism, mining magnates and deregulation, demanding redistribution of wealth and increased welfare. Pearson rejects that road.
We must first understand what we are dealing with. Four Corners assumes we are dealing with poverty. I would say we are not just dealing with poverty but something we have been talking about for a decade: passivity. In this respect indigenous policy discussion is ahead of the mainstream.
True, it is about growing up poor, but it is more than that. Poverty and passivity are distinct conditions. Every Australian family with working-class origins that ascended into the middle class during the past century endured poverty. Through the generations and with opportunity they rose up into the world of advantage.
What the families of Claymore are enduring is more profound than poverty. They are the victims of a welfare state that has harnessed a vast passive clientele, and in the process crippled their chances of converting opportunity into social progress.
American welfare reform thinker Lawrence Mead counselled there were two urgent priorities for children in troubled communities: first, they must see an adult in their family working; second, they must be sheltered from violence.
Labor administrations since the 1970s have laid waste to the values and the incentives that used to drive people from poverty into the middle class. We are now living with Gough’s grandchildren, the third generation unemployed. Not a pretty sight.