Only one way to banish poverty

By Garth George

As I said last week, only God knows the future. If you don't believe me, just look at economists and weather forecasters whose "computer model" prognostications are about as reliable as old-fashioned crystal balls.

I also wrote that I live in hope and, of course, I have hopes for this new year of 2014.

Already the economists are predicting an end to the years-long global financial crisis, which has caused me no concern whatever; and weather forecasters continue to get it wrong more often than they get it right.

What concerns me before all else is the plight of so many New Zealanders who are living in poverty, and particularly the dreadful effect that has on so many children.

Thus my first and dearest hope for this year, which happens to be the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Year of the Family, is that the next 12 months will see real and determined efforts to alleviate this suppurating national sore.

For poverty is the trigger for so much else that ails our people - child abuse and neglect, poor child health and inability to learn, to name but three.

Constantly throwing people and money at these problems has not worked and won't ever work. What is needed is an almost complete revision of our thinking on the economy as a whole, because that is where the problem really originates.

We have been told for decades that if we improve our economic performance, our wealth-production, the results will be felt by all. That is absolute rubbish, and we know that because the wealthier we have become, the greater the number reduced to poverty.

Wealthy people - and businesses - get that way because by every means possible they hang on to what they have got. Just look at our four major overseas-owned banks, which last year hoisted obscene profits in the billions of dollars.

That sort of profit reveals just one thing: that hundreds of thousands of bank customers are being royally ripped-off.

As are hundreds of thousands of workers who create the profits that banks and other businesses reveal year by year.

Ours is a low-wage economy and, as far as I'm concerned, that is the basic cause of poverty and all the social problems that flow from it.

Newspaper reports lately reveal that New Zealand's median earnings are, at $29,600, less than half those of Britain ($67,527) and not much more than half of those in Canada ($52,687) and Australia ($59,944).

Yet the cost of housing, goods and services in all four countries are pretty much the same and, in some cases, cheaper.

It is long past time that we revised our attitude to wage and salary earners and paid them their due.

It is also long past time we got rid of terms such as "human resources" and realised anew that wage and salary earners are people and not just bums on seats with a brain and a pair of hands - what Karl Marx labelled "economic units" - but are a valuable investment, not a liability.

Imagine the beneficial effect on our society if, for instance, banks and other wealthy businesses were to cut their profits by, say, 10 per cent, so they could employ more people.

Fat chance. What they do is keep on reducing staff and overworking those left, just to make more grossly obscene profits.

I am persuaded that the economic model which has driven our fiscal affairs for nearly three decades is seriously, if not irreparably, flawed, and that that is the place to start if we are ever to achieve economic justice for all and reduce poverty to its absolute minimum.

Laissez-faire capitalism has to go - or at least be subjected to some form of strict regulation.

But, as I say, I live in hope.

garth.george@hotmail.com

- Bay of Plenty Times

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