Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Asset Sales & Faith in the Public Square

There is news that Archbishop Rowan Williams will have a new book (Faith in the Public Square) released before the end of this year when he stands down from Canterbury. It is reported to be a scathing critique of the public policy of the Conservative Government in England and, from what I have seen, many of his rumoured criticisms could be applied to our own government policies in New Zealand.

It seems that the ABC has denounced David Cameron's talk of a "big society" as aspirational waffle "designed to conceal a deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable."   Now that sounds familiar and it could be used as a phrase to describe what our own government is doing, whether one listens to John Key or Paula Bennett.

Consider, after all, how chief executive pay has risen in New Zealand (2004-2010) by nearly 80% while, in the same period, the average workers wages rose by a bare 27%.  Add to that the tax cuts given to the wealthy on the one hand and, on the other hand, tougher measures on beneficiaries, increased prescription charges, higher Family Courts charges, reduced Working for Family Families provisions, labour laws giving less security to workers, a desperately overworked social services system, a Ministry where further cuts are required and Chief Executives will receive bonuses or cuts for success or failure in meeting targets - what is going on?

One dreadful irony is that in response to the ever-growing gap in our society, and the despair that is engendered, the Ministry of Health proposes, over the next four years, to put $8 million into a 'community suicide prevention scheme'.  What do you think of this as an example of 'aspirational waffle' : '(the scheme proposes that communities will) "work together and develop their own solutions to suicide, and access informed advice and support to implement local community action plans."  That looks and sounds to me as something "designed to conceal a deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable."

It seems that the ABC's book also  delivers some strong challenges to the rampant materialism and the unquestioning pursuit of so-called 'economic growth' that seems to dominate our western economic assumptions.  I understand that he has questioned the concept of 'growth' and the consequences that it carries - for instance, "By the hectic inflation of demand it creates personal anxiety and rivalry.   By systematically depleting the resources of the planet, it systematically destroys the basis for long-term wellbeing."   These are things we need to think on - deeply.

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