Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Nanny State in the bedroom

(First published in The Dominion Post, April 24.)

DEBATE on Labour MP Sue Moroney’s paid parental leave legislation has largely focused on whether it’s affordable, but surely there’s a much bigger issue here.

The notion that parents should be paid to carry out the role nature programmed them for – namely, looking after their children – represents a huge intrusion by the state into what has historically been deemed a private matter.

That this aspect of the debate has been virtually ignored demonstrates how thoroughly we have been conditioned to Big Government involving itself in people’s lives.

A letter in this paper, written by a man who said he came from a family of nine, made the point that his parents had made the choice to have children and it followed that they were prepared and able to foot the bill. 

He went on: “I don’t understand why people who decide to have children now expect the state to supply even more financial support for their life choices.”

I couldn’t have put it any better. Paid parental leave effectively makes the government a direct partner in the business of having a family.

That parents should base their decision to have children on the level of taxpayer support available to them represents a further erosion of individual responsibility. Metaphorically speaking, Nanny State might as well be standing in the bedroom during the act of procreation.

This doesn’t seem to bother the supporters of the Moroney bill. Then again, neither has it been mentioned by the National Party in its arguments against the bill, probably because there aren’t a lot of votes to be won by exploring moral and philosophical consequences.

* * *

THAT MEDIA commentators have been overwhelmingly in favour of extending paid parental leave is no surprise, since many of them are from the demographic group that stands to benefit.

Supporters of the bill point out that extending the provisions would bring us into line with certain other countries. This is rarely a convincing argument, least of all when some of those countries are burdened with massive deficits caused by feel-good government handouts.

In the dynamic economies of Asia, which are rapidly overtaking the tired, social-democratic states of Europe that are held out as an example to us, the concept of paid parental leave would be viewed with astonishment.

A far more compelling argument is that babies are best looked after at home, and that society as a whole benefits. The problem, however, is that the current generation of parents has unrealistically high lifestyle expectations that demand two incomes.

It doesn’t occur to them to do what their parents did, which was to adjust their lifestyle so that one parent worked while the other stayed at home.

Instead, they see it as the taxpayers’ obligation to make it possible for them to enjoy the best of both worlds: have a family while still being able to afford two cars, a McMansion, a 42-inch flat-screen TV and an annual overseas holiday.

 * * *

ONE INTRIGUING question remains unanswered in the saga of Katrina Bach, the beleaguered chief executive of the Department of Building and Housing. Who was on the phone?

Viewers of TV3 News have repeatedly been shown footage of Ms Bach being harried by reporter Patrick Gower – the Darth Vader of the press gallery, only not as good-looking – as she walked briskly through the corridors of Parliament.

Ms Bach was flanked by a phalanx of stony-faced, determined-looking female minders whose job, clearly, was to keep the news hound at bay. They resembled nothing so much as bodyguards protecting a publicity-shy celebrity.

All the while Ms Bach gave the impression of being intently pre-occupied with a cellphone conversation – albeit an unusually one-sided one, as she didn’t appear to be saying anything to whoever was on the other end.

This conveyed the unfortunate impression that she was faking the phone conversation to avoid having to respond to Gower’s questions, which surely was not the case. A simple statement identifying the mystery caller would clear the matter up and put an end to potentially corrosive speculation in the nation’s living rooms.

 * * * 

HE PROBABLY wouldn’t thank me for saying this, but Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O’Reilly would be an excellent man to have in Parliament.

He’s a clear thinker, an articulate communicator and a tireless champion of economic transformation. He’s not an ideologue, but neither is he a pragmatist who chooses the path of least resistance. We have a surfeit of both types of politician already.

O’Reilly is a big, genial man with an irreverent wit and an up-front approach that has helped him build good relationships with the media and with people on the other side of the employer/union divide. He is by far the most effective voice New Zealand business has had in my lifetime.

On second thoughts, perhaps he’s too good for politics.


Mark Hubbard said...

Karl, there are many of us who understand these true issues concerning the Nanny State: we're called classical liberals, sometimes libertarians, and we're treated like freaks for simply wanting limited government and our liberty back from a state that for all extents and purposes is now a police state (and if you don't believe me on that one, look at our taxing legislation, and the powers the IRD have to snoop, search and seize).

Great piece.

M said...

***Paid parental leave effectively makes the government a direct partner in the business of having a family.***

I think the issue is that government has an interest in ensuring the country has sufficient human capital to maintain a modern industrial economy.

The movie "Idiocracy" by Mike Judge made this point in a satirical manner. The premise is that in the future society has dumbed down significantly because the smartest, most educated women have the least children.

This is a serious point - research by the likes of Heiner Rindermann, Garrett Jones & Joel Schneider shows average national intelligence is hugely influential on macro-economic outcomes.

Professor James Flynn, an expert on intelligence, also made this point a few years ago. Noting that if the shortest people have the most children then over time the population will become shorter. Intelligence is another quantitative, heritable trait.

In this respect, I fully support government measures to support professional, educated women to be able to maintain their career and have children. Otherwise, the movie "Idiocracy" might prove prophetic.