Thursday, January 28, 2010

"The poor are a goldmine"

Fattest hand is first in the till

Noel Pearson is a great, fearless writer who combines deep analysis with scathing, excoriating description. By now much of his analysis of how passive welfare makes things worse for aboriginal people has filtered through to mainstream consciousness. In the above article he elaborates on a misunderstood aspect of his analysis. The aboriginal industry is made up of people who benefit before any aboriginal person benefits. Although some elements of welfare are essential it can easily reach a point where the helpers are taking responsibility out of the hands of the recipients. Once this becomes a problem it is hard to undo because many of the helpers would then become unemployed. Pearson is much more in touch with this than I am and far more scathing.

After quoting African-American economist Thomas Sowell, "The poor are a goldmine", Noel Pearson goes onto illustrate how this aphorism applies to indigenous Australians:
The leviathan of government bureaucracies make the payday lenders, the drug dealers and sly grog sellers pale in comparison with their commandeering of the income streams that are nominally allocated to the indigenous poor on the ground ...

So the first problem is an age-old one of ever-pullulating bureaucracies: like maggots engorged on a roadside carcass, whenever there is a new budget line the frontline departments of government serve themselves first. This is the real Aboriginal industry ...

The second form of welfare - passive service delivery - was not understood at the time of our critique, and has little public policy understanding even today. When we say that a large part of our welfare problem is government service delivery, people do not understand what we mean. After all, service delivery is supposed to be what is needed. Aboriginal disadvantage supposedly needs to be fixed by more comprehensive and more co-ordinated service delivery.

This is how you end up with 400 service providers for just 1200 people.

Our point that indigenous passivity is very much a consequence of government service delivery has been completely lost to the debate on indigenous policy.

The problem is that essential and beneficial government service delivery is mixed up with a vast panoply of services that displaced Aboriginal individuals, families and communities taking up their own responsibilities.

What my opponents and sceptics from the Left have failed to understand is that when we talk about disempowerment being the singular and devastating feature of Aboriginal Australia, we mean that our people have had their responsibilities taken away from us. Responsibility is power. If we want our people to be empowered, then we need to take back the responsibilities that the welfare state has stripped away from us.


Mark Miller said...

This is not only a problem in the developed world, but also in Third World countries when aid is brought in (though this is only temporary). Often the same dynamic occurs when aid efforts do not take full account of the situation as it exists. It behooves those who are trying to help and are giving of their time and money to circumstances where people are in desperate need to gain some understanding of the situation, and who is capable of really helping, before they give. Just "throwing money at a problem" indiscriminately leads to what you describe.

Anonymous said...

"The poor are a goldmine"

Martin Luther surely?