Death sentence for more New Zealand kids

Act MP David Garrett’s suggestion the government pay bad parents to be sterilized will resonate with a lot of people.

Like all of us Garrett says he’s concerned at the numbers of children abused and killed each year in New Zealand and suggests a $5,000 incentive to such parents who agree to a vasectomy or tubal ligation.

He uses a straight economic argument. It would be cheaper to pay for the operations and a cash incentive than pay for state care for the children of parents unlikely to cope. Moreover he thinks it would decrease the numbers of our kids murdered and abused each year. He uses the parents of the Kahui twins as examples.

It’s a crude proposal with the germ of a good idea. Along with free contraceptives, freely available vasectomies or tubal ligations should be part of state provided health services.

However incentivising such operations for particular people would be preaching from a high horse and do nothing to counter child abuse. Violence towards children so often comes from other family members besides parents. We would be entering the same league as that where cash changes hands for the donation of a kidney in some countries. In both cases human beings with minimal economic resources are placed at the mercy of markets. Like ACT’s three strikes policy Barrett’s idea is a simplistic, slogan-driven proposal.

By focusing on the symptoms of the problem Garrett misses the main point. There will never be an excuse for mistreatment or murder of children but there’s also no excuse for anyone to close their eyes to the cause.

It’s now well documented that not only is child abuse more prevalent in countries with bigger gaps between rich and poor, such as New Zealand, but that there is a direct causal link between income inequality and social breakdown. It’s not how poor you are that counts but how much further down the social gradient you are compared with others in the same country. Destructive, anti-social behavior blossoms when a significant section of the population feels it has no place in the mainstream and when every political message and economic policy from Garrett and politicians like him rams it home. Garrett would call this the politics of envy but it’s the social effects of marginalization and alienation.

I’ve mentioned before in this column the stunning research carried out by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett which shows the positive co-relation between income inequality and the level of social problems and a direct causal link between the two. Countries such as New Zealand and the US with high income differences have enormous social problems which includes high rates of child abuse, neglect and murder of innocents. Countries such as Japan, Norway and Sweden have similar levels of average wealth but much lower income differences between rich and poor and therefore much lower rates of child abuse and murder. It’s the same for educational achievement, life expectancy, imprisonment rates, teenage pregnancy and mental health etc.

In their book The Spirit Level the researchers go a step further to show that everyone, rich and poor alike, benefit from a more equal society.

Another point worth noting is that birth rates among the poor are always higher than the well-off anywhere in the world. It’s been the same throughout the history of human existence as has the somewhat ironic fact that birth rates drop when living standards rise.

My parents generation tended to have large families while their better off offspring have had much smaller families. The secret to population control and preventing child abuse is not forced or incentivized sterilizations but improving the standard of living of the poorest sections of a community.

Right-wing politicians like Garrett are unlikely to ever read The Spirit Level. Instead it’s easier to vent at the hapless alienated individuals caught up in appalling behavior towards helpless infants.

Similarly talkback radio hosts who think in one-dimensional comic-book slogans are happy to condemn further generations of children to brutality by railing against the symptoms while supporting policies which exacerbate the causes.

It’s no surprise David Garrett pushes for government policies which would increase the gaps between rich and poor and push more New Zealand families off the cliff into dehumanizing poverty with its appalling consequences for children.

Just look at looming government policies which will increase GST while providing a tax windfall to the rich. Bill English’s budget will be a death sentence for more New Zealand kids while Garrett and others celebrate their personal good fortune.

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