Sunday, August 31, 2008

How do miserable people progress in the world?

Noel Pearson has emerged as Australia's most significant political leader tackling our most important moral issue: the deplorable life expectancy (less than 50 yo) and life chances of indigenous Australians

I was lucky to hear Pearson speak in Adelaide a few years ago and was inspired by his powerful and logical rhetoric to dig further into his writings and analysis (found at CYI). I'm reminded of this when I listen to Pearson's recent speech to the Queensland Media Club, the full audio can be downloaded from this page

He raises these questions:
  • How do miserable people progress in the world?
  • How does this ruthless society work?
  • What are the rules of the game?
He then goes on to explain in detail the three parts of the staircase metaphor:
  • strong foundations, strong social norms
  • responsibilities as well as opportunities
  • rational alignment and incentives to climb
Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winning economist, is praised by Pearson for exposing the glaring conceit in liberal thinking that we only have to give people the opportunity to make free choices. If you are not healthy and not educated then you are not in a position to make good choices.

Pearson's analysis draws on aspects of both the conventional left and right of politics. To understand Pearson you have to be prepared to think outside of a conventional mindset. If you read Pearson carefully you will understand that he is philosophical profound as well as an effective practical, policy mover and shaker. See his radical centre paper or Charles Perkins Memorial Oration paper.

The great failure of "progressive" thinking is that there is no magic mass elevator or social justice forklift. Each individual has to climb the stairs, one by one. Everyone has to climb. Social justice is the sum of individual progress.

self interest: Indigenous people are influenced by self interest just as other cultures are
ecology: Why should indigenous people be more politically correct than anyone else wrt protecting the environment? Why should indigenous people choose to live in poverty because of their cultural heritage?
welfare: If an indigenous person can make $220 per week on the CDEP (Commonwealth Development Employment Projects) compared with $170 per week in a Traineeship then they will naturally make a price calculation and choose welfare

Due to welfare dependency things have deteriorated markedly since 1968 (the year aboriginal people gained citizenship and voting rights). Obligation free income is profoundly corroding. In the current situation the way forward is to mandate individual responsibility for those receiving welfare:
  1. Send your kids to school
  2. Protect your children from abuse and neglect
  3. Obey the law
  4. Look after your house
These interventions are currently taking place in four communities in the Cape York Peninsula. There will be no more funding for irresponsible behaviour. Governments and society cannot afford to continue to keep funding drug addiction.

Rights (to Land, culture) were an important first phase of Pearson's work but he realised early on that Rights alone would not work, Responsibility is essential too. Pearson has been pushing this for the past eight years.
"We've made more progress in the four months of Anna Bligh (Queensland Premier) than we did in the four terms of the Beattie government prior to that"
Progress requires a generational committment across the party politics political divide.

If you haven't heard him speak then don't miss the chance to listen to this audio. Pearson talk (59 minutes), Questions (10 minutes).

The mechanism put in place in Queensland by the Bligh government is better than that of the Northern Territory intervention, where there is a blanket quarantine of a certain percentage of welfare.

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