Gerry vs Giddens
Anthony Giddens, chief academic apologist for the tarnished doctrine of Blairism, has published an opinion piece bemoaning the supposed lack of interest in sociology today. If Giddens wants a reason for any decline in the discipline's status amongst ordinary people, then he need look no further than his own writing, which abandons any attempt at rigorous social analysis in favour of the sort of unctuous platitudes and flashy phrasemongering that will, along with the disaster in Iraq, always be associated with the name Tony Blair.
On the same day that Giddens' piece appeared in the Guardian, a group of sociologists from Auckland University managed to secure a few inches of frontpage space in the New Zealand Herald for an important study of family income levels. The results of the study make sad reading:
[M]edian family income, after adjusting for inflation and family size, was just over $37,000 a year in 1981 - and was still just over $37,000 in 2001...
The measure shows that the median gross income of all families dropped from $37,463 in 1981 to a low of $33,227 in 1991, before recovering slowly to $37,665 in 2001.
One of members of the team which has combed half a dozen censuses for data is my mate Gerry Cotterell, who is also writing a PhD on the New Zealand welfare state. Gerry has no time for the sort of dissimulation which Anthony Giddens has made into an artform, so he didn't mince words when the Herald asked him about the implications of his study:
Cotterell said other measures also showed that real wages had been static or falling over the past 20 years. Benefit levels were cut in the late 1980s and particularly in 1991 and had never recovered in real terms.
"It's kind of stunning," he said. "Income inequality has increased in Western countries. "What's scary in New Zealand is that it hasn't got better under Labour. There are more people in employment, but it's low-paid employment."
In other words, fifteen years of neo-liberal 'reform' of the economy by successive Labour and National governments and seven years of Blairite 'Third Way' tinkering by the Clark Labour government have done nothing to improve the lot of the average Kiwi family. When increases in the cost of living and the introduction of user pays for some public services are factored into the equation it is easy to see that ordinary New Zealanders are actually far worse off than they were a quarter century ago.
The brutal fact of the disastrous failure of capitalism - in New Zealand, and around the world - over the decades since the end of the long postwar boom in the early '70s is not something that Anthony Giddens will ever acknowledge. Rather than talk about anything as indecent as poverty, rising income inequality, and imperialist war driven by a desire to export recessions, he prefers to coin fuzzy phrases like 'social exclusion', 'transformations in personal life', and 'challenges of globalisation'. No wonder fewer and fewer people are listening. Give me Gerry Cotterel any day.