The New Zealand Labour Party has caused a stir this week announcing a raft of policy measures intended to alleviate poverty and improve the quality of life of New Zealand’s children. The one policy that has caught the media’s attention is the paying of new parents who earn up to $150,000 per annum $60 per week until their child turns 1 year old, or 3 years old for those on lower incomes. There is some sense in this policy as it will assist in alleviating poverty, however, to what degree and at what cost?
Canterbury University economist Dr Eric Crampton stated that such a policy move could raise New Zealand’s fertility rate. New Zealand has a fertility rate at around replacement level, therefore, any rise in fertility levels would only serve to increase population growth above replacement levels. As I have argued elsewhere, any population growth above replacement level is inherently unsustainable. When asked if he thought that the policy was value for money he replied with typical economist double speak; “I think life is worth at least that much to each of the children who wouldn’t otherwise be born, and that New Zealand is so far below optimal population size that it would be a bargain[.]. I agree; that to every individual who is given the gift of life, it is of immeasurable value, however, to then attempt to quantify it by making subjective statements about New Zealand’s optimal population size (whatever he thinks that may be) devalues those lives by attempting to place a value on them. By stating that having more people would be a bargain, he is essentially reinforcing the dehumanising ideology that more people means more production and consumption which is the ultimate goal of our current economic paradigm. Human well-being and matters relating to quality of life are only of secondary importance.
Therefore, although there is some merit in this policy regarding addressing child poverty and inequality; any government intervention that may result in increased fertility rates and higher population growth should be rejected as long as we live on a planet that is straining under the impacts of human over-consumption. We need politicians who can envision more creative and sustainable ways to address child poverty and inequality. It should also be noted that any government intervention that attempts to increase population growth for the purpose of attempting to sustain our unsustainable economic system, as our current government is doing, should be even more strongly rejected.