the power of community and the limits of government

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Talk to Maxim Institute conference, Auckland, March 2007: 'Pursuing Social Justice in NZ'


  • 1. PETER SAUNDERS The Power of Community and the Limits of Government

2. Does free market capitalism destroy our sense of community? Can the pursuit of social justice by governments restore it? To belong and participate The goal is to enable any citizen to meet and mix with other New Zealanders as one of them, as a full member of the community in brief, to belong. (1972 Royal Commission on Social Security) Members of our society are interdependent Collective or social goods should be available to all, and as far as possible universally used, in order to maximise social inclusion and cohesion (Prof Michael Keating) 3.

  • Market undermines Community?
  • Promotes individualism & selfishness
  • Commodifies relationships
  • Leads to inequality and social
  • fragmentation
  • Disregards human needs

November 2006: Blundstone announces closing Auckland and Hobart factories and moving to Asia 4. Concern about community: A conservative response to the two revolutions (Robert Nisbet) 5. Ferdinand Toennies,Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft(1890) the sentiments and motives which draw people to each other, keep them together, and induce them to joint action: NATURAL WILL (Blood, Place, Belief) RATIONAL WILL (Self-interest, calculation themarket order) 6. Strong community ties in the past? Weak community ties in the present? 7. Capitalism breeds individualism and selfishness? Bournville Village, Birmingham, England Asian market Market, south-east Asia Adam Smith 8.

  • Measuring social health:
  • Crime rate
  • Divorce rate
  • Suicide rate
  • Rate of mental illness
  • etc

Emile Durkheim 9. Big Government versus Free Markets: Whats the evidence?(a) Crime rate Steady rise 1950 - 1970Strong rise 1970 mid 1990s Falling since mid 1990s 10. Big Government versus Free Markets: Whats the evidence?(b) Family breakdown Divorce: strong rise 1970-1990, then flattening out Ex-nuptial births: Strongly rising since 1960 11. Big Government versus Free Markets: Whats the evidence?(c) Governmentexpenditure and economic freedom Spending rising sharply 1970-mid 1980s Economic freedom strengthens mid 1980s mid 1990s 12. Big Government versus Free Markets Summary(a) Biggest increase in government spending (1970-mid 80s) coincides with fastest rise in crime & divorce rates; (b) Growth of economic freedom (from 6.0 in 1985 to 8.6 in 1995) followed by flat divorce rate and falling crime rate So no evidence that increased social expenditure created greater social cohesion, nor that moving to freer markets led to social fragmentation 13. Does rising inequality undermine social cohesion? Ratio of equivalised household income of 8 thcompared with 20 thpercentile, 1988-2004 In NZ inequality has increased as cohesion has improved. Jencks finds no association between inequality in a country and crime, health, family stability or reported happiness. 14.

  • The unintended consequences of 100 years in pursuit of social justice:
  • Disempowered individuals

Many people have been left with very little of importance to decide for themselves For those at the bottom, such money as they receive is in effect pocket money, like the money school children get from their parents.As a result they are infantilised (Theodore Dalrymple) The welfare state drains too much of the life from life (Charles Murray) Personal responsibility and obligation are key elements that are corroded by long-term dependency we now have a significant entrenched behavioural problem (Noel Pearson) 15. The unintended consequences of 100 years in pursuit of social justice:(2) Politicised civil society Donors get suspicious and resentful of bludgers Recipients feel stigmatised or become demanding of their rights Self-destructive behaviour escalates as we all come to realise that the governmentwill pick up the pieces 16. The unintended consequences of 100 years in pursuit of social justice:(3) Crowding out the little platoons NYC 1900: 112 churches in 2 boros ran: 48 industrial schools; 44 sewing schools; 45 libraries; 40 kindergartens; 29 savings banks; 21 employment offices; 20 gyms/pools; 8 dispensaries; 7 nurseries; 4 lodging houses Demise of mutual aid societies: 17. Conclusion: Back to Robert Nisbet No social group will long survive the disappearance of its chief reasons for being ( The Quest for Community , 1953)


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