Working towards a poverty free utopia

Having a fair and equal-ish society is a good ideal to aspire to, but it’s difficult and complicated.

Poverty, and things like health, housing and education inequalities are not just things that money can fix, whether it be Government money used to try to fix problems, or income level;s for individuals and families.

Things like drug and alcohol abuse, family and public violence and sexual abuse are often intergenerational problems that can’t be quickly or easily fixed.

But of course we should try to better – our government should, or society should, our families should.

What is achievable?

Rod Oram at Newsroom: How to solve our paradox of poverty and plenty

Just taking money off people with plenty and giving it to people with relative poverty is not going to work, even if politicians tried  – they keep moving in that direction, but only so far.

Now we have an economy that fails to pay many a reasonable wage or meet their material needs; that is driven by unsustainable debt, production and consumption; that rapidly degrades our ecosystem on which we depend, as documented by Environment Aotearoa 2015, the Government’s first comprehensive evaluation of our ecosystem.

On our current trajectory, all those will get worse. But again, we are not alone. Those are the characteristics of the global economy, albeit we give our own expression to them such as the rapid expansion of dairy farming and international tourism.

In the future, should we choose, we can have an economy that provides a high standard of living in financial and physical terms, in deeply sustainable ways; and we can do so in ways that make sense for who we are as a diverse nation founded on Treaty of Waitangi principles, for the nature of our land and oceans, and for our destiny as a distinctive, tiny country in a teeming world hungry for inspiration and innovation.

Oram is not a politician, nor is he, I presume, someone suffering from significant deprivation or poverty. he’s more of an academic keyboard solution writer – but still worth reading.

Seven big shifts are needed

Raworth lays out seven big shifts we need to make:

  • From defining progress as GDP growth, which is an exceptionally narrow economic metric that excludes social and environmental outcomes, to defining it as “meeting the needs of all within the means of the planet.”
  • From narrowly defining the economy as a self-contained market, to seeing it embedded in, contributing to and dependent on society and the ecosystem.
  • From fixating on the “rational economic man’ to appreciating and responding to the diversity of human behaviours which include inter-dependence, reciprocity, and adaptability to the people and circumstances around us.
  • From simple supply-demand equilibrium in markets to the dynamic complexity of economies, societies and ecosystems.
  • From the flawed hope that growth will reduce inequalities to ensuring all people share in the means of creating wealth and receive their fair share of the rewards.
  • From believing growth will enable us to clean up the mess we’ve made to redesigning our use of natural resources, our products, service and economies so they contribute to the regeneration of the ecosystem.
  • From addiction to endless growth to creating economies that thrive and deliver for people and the planet without necessarily growing.

Many of us Kiwis want to progress, as do billions of other people around the world. We want to be wealthier in all senses of the word, economically, socially, culturally and environmentally. But we know we won’t achieve those reasonable goals by working the way we do now.

In everything we do we need to ask ourselves how do we work with nature not against it?

Working better with nature is just a part of what we need to do.

Poor people tend to concentrate on surviving, getting by day to day as best they they can, and tend to not worry too much about greater ideals.

You can take a poor person to the supermarket, but you can’t make them buy only healthy eco-friendly products with no plastic.

Oram has a number of suggestions about farming, urban design, energy and forestry. He concludes:

We cannot take for granted our urgently needed transformation. It requires us to achieve an unprecedented speed of change, scale of change and complexity of change we have never come within cooee of before. To do so, we have to be a confident, ambitious, learning and inclusive nation so everyone can contribute to and benefit from becoming deeply sustainable.

Sounds ok in theory. Has he got a magic wand?

Changing some things at an unprecedented speed may be good, even necessary, but it won’t be without hardships and adverse effects and unintended consequences.

Above all three attributes are essential to us a nation: common sense of what we need to do, common purpose as to how we will do it, and common wealth from sharing the rewards widely.

I wonder what Oram is doing about it other than writing.

As grand as Jacinda Ardern’s ambitions sound (to some) there is no sign of the current Government coming close to following Oram’s pathway to Utopia.

There is Paradise in New Zealand, but it’s in the remote Dart Valley, beyond Glenorchy at the head of Lake Wakitipu.

It won’t be easy getting us all there and living happily together.