10 December 2004

NZ parliament threatens survival of the species

New Zealand has just passed a civil unions bill. This is sad because, if the Man of Steel is to be believed, it means that the New Zealanders face extinction in the near future. On the other hand, believing the Man of Steel has never been a terrifically effective cognitive strategy.

The parliamentary committee on the bill reported:
Most submitters who opposed the bill were specifically opposed to same-sex couples raising children, as they did not believe gay parents could have the same outcomes for children as heterosexual married parents. This is not supported by the research specifically comparing the heterosexual and homosexual parents. Because these beliefs about lesbian and gay parents and their children are open to empirical test, their accuracy can be tested. The American Psychological Association, Lesbian and Gay Parenting: Summary of Research Findings, found:

there is no evidence to suggest that lesbians and gay men are unfit to be parents or that psychosocial development among children of gay men or lesbians is compromised in any respect relative to that among offspring of heterosexual parents. Not a single study has found children of gay or lesbian parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents. Indeed, the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by gay and lesbian parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth.

This was supported by the paper ‘‘(How) Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?’’ published in the American Sociological Review. Both these papers identify the most significant difference to be the discrimination their parents face. The research states:

we propose that homophobia and discrimination are the chief reasons why parental sexual orientation matters at all. Because lesbigay parents do not enjoy the same rights, respect, and recognition as heterosexual parents, their children contend with the burdens of vicarious social stigma.

We recognise the concern that submitters have about the environments in which children are being raised. However, we believe that the biggest unchecked social change New Zealanders have seen in the last 30 years has not been about homosexual rights, the erosion of marriage or no-fault divorce. We believe the shift in work/life balance from favouring the family to favouring the workplace, needs to be urgently addressed. Many submitters agreed that this shift has had significant consequences for New Zealand families. We were reminded that this was important for both parents as their relationship with their children can become strained where workplace pressures mean they do not have much time to engage with their children and play a significant role in their development. The quality of these most significant relationships is pivotal to children’s success.

In the dying days of the last parliament, the government, ably assisted by the opposition, whipped through a bill excluding gay marriage. The prime minister's justification (apart from his undisclosed deal with Family First) was the protection of children. Apparently stigmatizing kids by refusing to let their parents marry does them good.

7 December 2004

Behind the facade of our miracle economy

Reserve Bank figures show that in 1992 household debt was 56 per cent of income. At the end of 2002 it was 125 per cent. Over that period the average mortgage went from $82,000 to $175,000. Over the same period income rose about 40 per cent and, at the same time, jobs became increasingly casual or part time and so less secure.

It was in outer suburbs such as Mill Park that people worried during the recent election campaign about how a possible interest rate rise would threaten prosperity. Yet because people on the outer suburban fringe are among the most reliant on the motor car, we now know higher petrol prices are having the impact of a de facto rate rise.

There is an interesting precedent for a glittering facade. Gregor Alexandrovich Potemkin was an 18th century Russian military leader, politician and lover to Empress Catherine the Great. His name comes down to us partly because of his construction of elaborate fake villages in the Ukraine and Crimea for Catherine to see during her royal tours. She was apparently unaware that the prosperity was a fake.

So are our suburbs a reflection of economic potemkinism?

Economist Peter Brain, who heads the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research, thinks it is a facade and thus unsustainable and liable to collapse.

'One of the problems of borrowing against home values is that values can fall, but the debt will not. House prices are static in most of Australia and have already started to fall in Sydney,' he says. 'We are borrowing overseas to fund consumption and leaving nothing to the next generations except debt. The next generations, X and Y, will have nothing to inherit.'

So who will own the tracts of housing in a generation? Brain thinks that in 20 or 30 years, if we don't do something to stop the debt blow-out, much of our housing could be owned by overseas investors, the same sort of people who are lending money to the banks for us to borrow.

Debt is the elephant in the living room. Next time the opposition has a chance, perhaps they'll discuss this instead of signing Potemkin guarantees to keep interest rates low and 'easy' credit flowing. Next time someone is looking for a populist campaign platform how will the Coalition or Labor deal with a movement based on denouncing the faceless investors beyond our shores who want to take the McMansions away?