Newstalk ZB'S Chris Lynch thinks the poor are to blame for being poor and deserve to be punished.
CHRIS LYNCH IS the local Christchurch morning host on talkback station Newstalk ZB. He also writes a weekly column for a local free newspaper The Star. He recently demanded to know why Ruth Dyson MP had the bad taste to retweet one of my tweets, because I'm, after all, a crazy person of 'far left' opinions.
Actually I think Lynch was just irritated that I declined to go on his show to participate in some meaningless debate with a pundit of the conservative persuasion. Apparently people with dangerous left wing opinions must always be 'balanced' by someone from the right of the political spectrum. In stark contrast hosts like Mike Hosking and Larry Williams can promote their dreary right wing views without any restriction whatsoever.
Of course Newstalk ZB, like talkback radio generally, is not known for its liberal opinion. In a twisted and endless loop the hosts confirm the right wing prejudices of the station's conservative audience who confirm the opinions of the conservative hosts. Within this fetid and incestuous atmosphere the ills of the nation are solved in three minute calls in between commercials for health products and car yards.
One of the qualifications for being a talkback host on Newstalk ZB is a readiness to bash beneficiaries, the poor and various other minority groups. On talkback radio the game is not to give voice to the voiceless but to prop up the status quo and those who benefit from it. Chris Lynch, relatively new to the talkback business, has quickly come to understand this obligation. He certainly delivered when he declared 'good riddance' when an unfortunate man died in a fire in an earthquake- damaged house he was squatting in.
So Lynch is not unfamiliar with bashing the poor and dispossessed. This week in his newspaper column he dredged up the tired old prejudice that the reason people don't have enough have money for food is because they don't budget properly and make 'wrong choices'. This is actually what John Key said back in 2011.
The catalyst for Lynch's outburst was the Green Party's Feed the Kids bill, which was formerly being promoted by the Mana Party.
There are some 270,000 children living in poverty in this country, one of the highest levels in the developed world, which suggests that Lynch's 'recovering economy' is only delivering for those at the top of the economic pile.
But Lynch is having none of this. Echoing John Key, Lynch thinks that many children do not get enough to eat because the parents are smoking twenty fags a day while plonked on the couch watching 'cable television'. And in a none too subtle swipe at the Maori and Pasifika communities he thinks some parents are sending money to the local church, rather than buying groceries. The solution, says Lynch, is simple:
'Luxury items like cigarettes would be banned from the house, cable television would be cut off, and weekly donations to the local church would cease. Redirect that on the well being of children. Perish the thoughts of personal responsibility.'
And perish the thought that Lynch would bother to provide anything as trifling as hard evidence for these claims of parental irresponsibility. And anecdotes from anonymous talkback callers is not evidence.
It is also revealing that Lynch works for a radio station that once used to berate the Helen Clark government for interfering in people's lives. Lynch though thinks it is entirely appropriate that the state should have the right to burst into the houses of the poor, looking for cigarettes and the remote to the television set. But, if you are poor, you apparently do not enjoy the same rights as people who are more fortunate - like Chris Lynch, for instance.
Lynch has decided that it is the fault of the poor for being poor. He is so sure of this that he argues that 'if a request is made for some social benefit from expectant parents, make them sign contracts acknowledging their obligations to their children and society.'
I have always had time for Christchurch City Missioner Michael Gorman who has consistently spoken out for the poor and those in need. But his observation that he's seeing a new group of people seeking food parcels, namely the working poor, is not one Lynch has any sympathy for.
The reality is that a growing number of people cannot survive on the low wages they are being paid. This is the direct result of neoliberal economic policies but Lynch prefers to blame the working poor themselves. He suggests that '..perhaps the Government could rescue parents and help them retain their 'mana' by providing appropriate food vouchers, giving them tools to feel like a responsible adult, by going out shopping, deciding on budgets and studying itemised grocery lists'.
I have breaking news for Chris Lynch. The poor are some of the best budget keepers around. Unlike the idle rich who think nothing of blowing a few hundred dollars in a up market restaurant, the poor have to carefully juggle what little money they have in order to pay the rent and the utility bills.
Lynch knows too well that rents have escalated in Christchurch because he has often complained about it on his show. I don't see him launching any attacks on the greed of landlords though. But that kind of criticism might, of course, have an negative impact of Newtalk ZB's advertising. So better to say nothing, eh Chris?
Poor bashing, sadly, remains a favourite sport of the corporate media in this country. Portraying the poor as unworthy, responsible and, in many cases, potentially criminal, diverts attention away from the actual causes of poverty and unemployment and onto the victims of inequality.
What Lynch is doing is scapegoating the victims by individualising the origins of the causes and of the solutions to poverty. The aim is to divert attention from the policies of both National and Labour-led governments that have created one of the most unequal societies in the world today.
You will not be surprised to learn that I find Karl Marx's view on poverty more convincing than that of Chris Lynch. Marx writes in Capital Vol 1:
"Modern society's whole form of motion … depends on the constant transformation of a part of the working population into an unemployed or semi-employed 'hands'…" This "industrial reserve army" is not an accident of history but performs an essential service. "The overwork of the employed part of the working class swells the ranks of its reserve, while conversely, the greater pressure that the reserve by its competition exerts on the employed workers forces them to submit to overwork and subjects them to the dictates of capital. The condemnation of one part of the working class to enforced idleness by the overwork of the other part, and vice versa, becomes a means of enriching the individual capitalist, and accelerates at the same time the production of the industrial reserve army…"
What Marx saying is that is poverty, if it did not exist, would have to be invented in order to reduce wages and, therefore, production costs in order to promote profit accumulation.
The vicious politics of poor bashing, which Lynch indulges in, simply tries to divert attention and analysis from what creates poverty and increasing inequality in New Zealand. It certainly is not the poor themselves.
But, as Marx also said, the point is not to just interpret the world but to change it. In the end sympathy and charity won't do it. Nor will Parliament , with all the political parties committed to a variant of the neoliberal orthodoxy that has created the widespread poverty in the first place.