Citizenship and property

I have an opinion piece in the Dominion Post today.

Property divide creating second class citizens

…citizens are becoming less equal in New Zealand. In practice, unless you have property, or wealth, or a means of surviving without assistance from the state, the state feels that it is entitled to tell you how to live. It’s worth listening to the rhetoric from political parties, and seeing whose interests they want to protect, and who they think should be subject to state intervention. As it turns out, it is people without property who are told what they may spend their money on, how often they must see a doctor, and who must allow public servants to pry through their affairs. Because they have no resources, they are vulnerable to interference by the state.


7 comments on “Citizenship and property

  1. Tamara says:

    Deborah, that was very interesting, thank you. Just wondering, what would your response be to the 2 comments made so far, which are basically the same argument?

  2. Deborah says:

    Their argument boils down to: I pay my taxes, therefore I can tell people who depend on my taxes how to live. One of the commenters is taking it to quite an extreme: she or he wants to forbid all luxuries, even fairly low level ones, to people receiving benefits.

    I’ve got a number of answers, ranging from worries about nanny-statism, to a fairly detailed discussion about the nature of citizenship and the ideal of freedom, to arguments that are fairly similar to John Stuart Mill’s arguments about the state making decisions on behalf of its citizens (in Chapter 4 of On Liberty), to the rather cynical demonising of beneficiaries by political parties. I think the arguments from Mill work quite well: the person who can best judge what to do in a particular situation is the person themself; people will never become responsible if we don’t assume that they are responsible in the first place; allowing the government to make decisions on people’s behalf gives the government too much power.

    In direct response to those two comments, I’d ask why they think that merely having money gives them rights to interfere in other people’s lives. What they are doing is reducing benefits to a market-type transaction: I pay the money, therefore you do what I want. But that’s not why we pay benefits. We pay benefits as an entitlement, so that people don’t have to be beholden to an employer, or to a charity, or to a public servant. If they are not an entitlement, then individual people are terribly vulnerable to the caprice of governments, or public servants, or employers. And that makes them second-class citizens, people who must be careful about what they say or do for fear that their benefit will be taken from them.

    • Tamara says:

      Thanks Deborah. Those commenters seem to think that when a person receives state support that person should be treated as owned by the state as a proxy for the taxpayer. Kind of like “while you’re sleeping under my roof you’ll do as I say!”.

      What I suppose it boils down to is whether one thinks having more than one class of citizen is okay or not. I suspect that those commenters would say that beneficiaries should be second class citizens and that there is nothing wrong with that.

  3. Katherine says:

    I usually try to argue that people should care about everyone’s standard of living, because what if something happened and they needed to go on the benefit? But for a lot of people the chances of that appear pretty low, so they don’t care. Or they think ‘oh yeah but I’m not like them, I deserve a higher standard of living even if I have to go on the benefit’. It’s hard to change people’s minds. The results from the poll accompanying your piece are heartening though.

    • Deborah says:

      I hadn’t even seen that poll! I’ve voted in it now.

      Yes, there’s good prudential reason for caring about benefits. The benefit system exists just as much for me as it does for people who are using it right now, even though I’ve never had to use it, and barring unpredictable misfortunes, I don’t expect to use it. But it creates freedom for me, just because it is there. I’d like to write about that one day, but I’ve done a couple of pieces on benefits now, and I need to give it a rest for a while. But I’ve got another (yet to be written – eek!) piece appearing next week, on a totally different topic.

  4. Mr Bee says:

    Thank you. I have voted too now. Vote early, vote often.

  5. Helen says:

    Interesting that one of your commenters describes “the good old days” as when “the voting rich had vast estates that supported them and their villiens”. LOL, I didn’t know the medieval Feudal system had ever existed in Pakeha NZ. Quite the ultraconservative comments, aren’t they? Do you find the people in general are more conservative now you’ve moved back to NZ. or is this just an unrepresentative sample?

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