Jim Hopkins has been to a foreign place, but it wasn’t in another country.
For all sorts of reasons, principally a stubborn refusal to challenge our own shibboleths, we’ve created a monument to indifference, an unintended but shameful urban disaster.
Calling it the perfect slum would be satisfyingly glib – and unfair. But it is the ghetto of good intentions, an ill-considered, ill-designed place created by well-meaning souls who’ve unwittingly turned a 1935 dream into a 21st century nightmare.
There’s no doubt they believed they were doing the Lord’s work. There’s no doubt the rest of us didn’t give a toss so long as things were out of sight and out of mind. And there’s no doubt the benign objectives of an egalitarian society have yielded a malignant result. . .
South Auckland is architectural evidence there is a Law of Unintended Consequences. It’s what you get when you marry munificence and indifference.
It’s what you create when no one asks questions about what they’re creating. It’s an accident of angels, a bureaucratic folly and a public shame.
The lawlessness, the fear, the deliberate damage and the neglect ought to be foreign to New Zealand, so why aren’t they?
Drug and alcohol abuse, lack of education, poor health, intergenerational dysfunction and poverty are among the causes.
The welfare state which was designed to help those in need ought to have prevented some of that but it too has contributed to the problem.
Welfare doens’t cause problems when it’s short-term assistance for people temporarily in need. It’s not a problem when it’s long term assistance for those who will never be able to help themselves.
But it creates problems when it gives long term assistance for people who ought to be able to look after themselves and can’t or won’t. By giving without expecting anything in return it creates a culture of dependency, and a dislocation from society.
The benefit system gives people the right to other people’s money without making them responsible for using it wisely. Those who give that money – the businesses and workers who pay the taxes from which benefits come- have responsbilities and if they don’t meet them they face consequences, which could include losing their jobs.
Cutting benefits in part or altogether would cause more problems, especially for families where children would suffer. But the opposite extreme of allowing people to languish on welfare indefinitely and opt out of society while doing so isn’t working either.
Perhaps the answer lies somewhere between. It won’t be simple and it won’t be cheap but not finding it will be more expensive in human and financial terms than pretending South Auckland’s a foreign land whose problems aren’t ours.