Monday 1 June 2009

If you import poor people, you have more poverty

That is not my line by the way. I've imported it, in the spirit of globalisation.

I do wonder at times though whether ACOSS and all the other similar special pleading groups make a connection between a barmy immigration policy and their never ending cries for "more money for the poor".

We rarely see absolute poverty in Australia any more. If we do, it is more usually an outcome of poor personal choices - drug or alcohol addiction, single parent families, poor or non-existent English skills or behavioural patterns that put off even the most desperate employer. Or a combination of all of the above.

What we mostly have today is relative poverty. Some of the past indicators of absolute poverty were ragged clothes, a starved appearance, a lack of shoes and very poor health (brought about by vitamin deficiency, poor sanitation, lack of good food and heating in winter).

Starvation is a thing of the past - remember the Irish Spud Shortage, when emaciated bodies lined the roads? These days, obesity is more likely to afflict the poor.

As for clothes, even the meanest wasters can afford numerous pairs of tracksuit pants, hooded tops and flannel shirts from Target.

And shoes? When I see housing commission kids wearing more expensive trainers than I have on, I know absolute poverty is a thing of the past. We all have flush toilets, so sanitation is no longer a killer of the poor (dysentery, typhoid etc), and although housing might be cramped and expensive in Sydney, most of the poor have a nice brick and tiled place to call home. Around here, you even get million dollar water views with your housing commission crack den.

Vitamin deficiencies and poor diet are now a matter of choice, as in what you stuff your face with, rather than an absolute shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables. If we eat salted cabbage these days, it is not because it is the only way to make it last through the winter - instead, it is a culinary preference.

Enough of our poor.

The beauty of our capitalist system is that it allows everyone a chance to lift their position in the world. You can start with stuff-all, and acquire wealth throughout your life, ending up with a comfortable retirement. Look at uni students for instance. They graduate with not a lot to their name, except for a pile of debt and a bit of paper - and the chance to leverage that bit of paper into something good. Over a working life of say 40 years, many will earn enough to raise a family, pay off a nice house, own a number of cars, take overseas holidays and furnish that house in ways that were unimaginable to the richest billionaires 100 years ago. They do that through effort, thrift and a lot of sweat and a fair amount of stress.

But they can go from owing thousands of dollars in student fees to a substantial level of comfort over the course of their life. From serious negative net worth to millionaires perhaps.

And you no longer need a uni degree to make that transition. Miners, plumbers, carpenters, electricians and so forth now generally command wages that easily catapult them into the ranks of the comfortable middle class.

An interesting statistic from the US is that over the last few decades, even as the population has been growing, the absolute number of white and black Americans living in poverty has been declining. I will have to dig the numbers up, but the number of one of those groups living in poverty dropped from 9.8 million to 9 million over a decade or two as the total population grew by tens of millions. As nasty as capitalism can seem to many, that is not a bad result.

However, the total number of people living in poverty grew. Why? Because the total number of Hispanics living in poverty grew by a greater number than those whites and blacks that emerged from poverty. And most of those Hispanics were poor, illegal immigrants from south of the border.

In other words, if you allow in millions of poor people, you end up with more poor people in absolute terms. All your efforts to lift your indigenous poor out of poverty will be nullified if more poor people keep on coming in.

Now I have no complaint with allowing in lots of immigrants. I don't even mind letting in poor immigrants - after all, my in-laws arrived flat broke and unable to speak English.

But that didn't stop them from starting a business, learning English off their own bat, paying taxes, getting involved with their church and charities, putting their kids through school and dealing with everyone they met in English, not their native language. They did not ask for government handouts and government assistance and government guidance. They just did it. They are living proof that migrants can settle and fit in and get by without any government meddling or support - as are many, many other immigrants who have hoed the same row.

And that's how I like it. If you are poor, and you want to move here - good luck to you (assuming you get in legally). Come on in and have a go. You might succeed. You might fail. That's the nature of things. But please don't expect to be showered with services and support by the government.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the way things are today. We have bleeding-heart do-gooder groups on one hand bleating for money because they think that immigrants will do better if showered with cash and services, which just act as a crutch and a brake on assimilation (instead of adapting and settling in and); and on the other we have what I call the Migrant Mafia - small groups of "spokespeople" who extort money and patronage from governments in return for votes (which they assemble via the client state).

If an immigrant lands on our shores as a poor person, they are not going to lift themselves out of poverty by relying on the state for the rest of their life. They will only become wealthy through work - paid employment, or running their own business. Getting them addicted to the government tit as soon as they arrive is not doing them any favours.

I might be hard, but consigning someone to a life time of government dependent poverty is plain cruel.

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