Race and the Living Standards Framework

The Treasury has been at work on its Living Standards Framework for some years now (since at least 2011).  When it was first dreamed up I recall remarking to various people that it seemed like preparation for a Labour/Greens government.  And so it has come to be, with the new government embracing the framework –  a substitute for actually doing anything about New Zealand’s dismal productivity record –  and talking endlessly about their forthcoming “wellbeing Budget”, plans for which must now be well underway.

There have been numerous papers published.  Among them were several playing identity politics:

Strangely, the Pacific paper emphasises that there is a wide variety of different Pacific cultures, but the Asian one talks repeatedly of “the Asian culture”.   This was the paper Gabs Makhlouf was touting in China a couple of weeks ago, talking up the “value” of “recognition of the hierarchical orderings of relationship.”

Personally, these papers strike me as largely a waste of public money.   But then so is the whole project, and I am very uneasy about The Treasury trying to analyse policy by loose race-based “preferences” or sets of values.  It has been notable, for example, that they have made no effort (to date) to look at perspectives on “wellbeing” by religion, for example –  where any differences may well be starker than those across race-based lines. Nothing either by political affiliation or ideology.  Only race.

Treasury were the ones who set off on the race-based path.  So I was curious –  and, okay, being slightly mischievous –  about what they’d done to look at the perspectives on the issue of European New Zealanders?   I didn’t actually expect they’d have done anything –  maybe they just assumed that their British CEO could adequately represent a (or the likely wide range of) European perspective(s)?   But I lodged the OIA request, and had a response this afternoon.

This was my request

Dear Sir/Madam,
I have noticed that Treasury has recently released papers on Maori, Pacific and Asian New Zealanders” “wellbeing” and the Living Standards Framework.  This is to request any similar work on European New Zealanders’ wellbeing, and if no such work exists any explanations why, and copies of any papers/emails relevant to the decision not to prepare such a paper.
Thanks in anticipation.
and this was the response,  provided on the very last of the standard 20 working days, and certainly not (as the Act requires) as soon as reasonably practicable.
The request is being declined under section 18(e) because the document/s requested do not exist.

In other words, it seems it never even occurred to them to think about the distinctive perspectives of the largest ethnic group in New Zealand.

Telling really, about the tokenism and identity politics that seems to infest this project.


10 thoughts on “Race and the Living Standards Framework

  1. I had to have a look at the Pacific perspective. This caught my eye “”This paper suggests that any framework for describing and understanding Pacific peoples must highlight family as the dominant relationship that Pacific peoples acquire from birth, and highlight the key influence that culture plays in the social, human and physical capital stocks of Pacific New Zealanders.””
    When living in PNG for many years I heard many generalisations from both expats and nationals about the over 800 different PNG cultures. For example I heard Trobriand islander girls may be flirty, many Sepik cultures are determinedly male chauvinist, Hulis and Simbu are liable to be aggressive, etc. A good friend was a social worker in the Health system and she taught the nurses that when you asked about pain one culture would be proudly stoic and another a mass of emotions so you had to allow for culture when making medical assessments.
    However after many years it dawned on me that family is the overriding factor. It cannot be coincidence that so many families produce multiple highly successful siblings frequently with illiterate parents living a village life little changed other than religion for 50,000 years. My wife is one of seven children all have been successful but in different professions. Her culture is important to her but it is family ties and possibly Catholicism that have made her who she is. I can list other PNG families similarly successful but from different provinces.
    I am surprised the Treasury would willing enter this racist minefield but I will accept the first part of that quote is correct. What the second part means I can’t decypher. The high significance of family is not unique to PIs; it reminds me of my own upbringing in East Anglia and also every Chinese or Indian I have every known well enough to discuss their background.
    I wish I could remember which scientist said it but there is a quote applicable to race that “he couldn’t understand the value of any category that had more exceptions that commonalities”.


  2. I read a little more and this Treasury document has embedded a couple of quotes from Chief Seattle so I checked him out on Wikipedia. He is the American Red Indian whom Seattle was named after, so hardly relevent to Pacific Island perspectives. Wikipedia says “” The speech or ‘letter’ attributed to Chief Seattle has been widely cited as a ‘”powerful, bittersweet plea for respect of Native American rights and environmental values’. But this document, which has achieved widespread fame thanks to its promotion in the environmental movement, is of doubtful authenticity.””

    Clearly the author and the Treasury believe their Pacific Perspective document is valuable and I think it is a load of tosh. While they may be right because of its opaque academic style I cannot see it being of any use to disinterested parties. However it does give the Samoan and Tongan churches a strong argument for government funding. I mean if the Treasury says you are of critical importance who would dare to disagree?


  3. Do you not regard Hawaiians as Pacific peoples?
    Native Hawaiians (Hawaiian: kānaka ʻōiwi, kānaka maoli, and Hawaiʻi maoli) are the aboriginal Polynesian people of the Hawaiian Islands. 560,000 of them


  4. Wellbeing and Finance on a large scale. That is a supermarket with each customer exchanging money for items that best satisfy their wellbeing. A supermarket does have items that appeal to specific ethnic and gender groups: suntan lotion, pork, lipstick. Not only do supermarkets avoid ‘ethnic perspective’ documents they actually make an effort to give every customer the same level of service whoever they are and wherever they are from.


  5. “recognition of the hierarchical orderings of relationship.”

    Hmm. China is a former empire and like most former empires, it is overly preoccupied with hierarchies. But it’s not a particularly Asian preoccupation.


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