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Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 51

Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 51

Contents: --------- * Birth and fertility rates Delayed childbearing and lifestyle choices are resulting in fewer children being born.

* The new 'creative class' The author of a new book considers who it is that can lead us into the future. Read about Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class.

* On the Move A new report highlights the connection between transient households and educational underachievement, but what about the effect of broken families?

* Political correctness An international expert in cultural analysis will speak on political correctness at Maxim events in Auckland and Christchurch - register now.

Birth and fertility rates - trends continue --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Fewer babies are being born, mothers are getting older and the population will soon be unable to replace itself without migration, according to figures released this week by Statistics New Zealand.

The number of live births registered in New Zealand last year totalled 54,000, a decrease of 1,800 (or 3 percent) on the previous year. The latest figure is down 10 percent on the peak of 60,200 recorded in 1990. This drop is largely because there are fewer women in their twenties having children. New Zealand women now average 1.90 births each, which is about 10 percent below the level required by any population to replace itself without migration. In 20 of the last 23 years, fertility in New Zealand has been below the replacement level, a reflection of the trend towards later marriages, smaller families and delayed motherhood. In 2002, 51 percent of all newborn babies had a mother aged 30 or older.

The wider picture adds an alarming twist to these figures: we claim to love and cherish children and families, but condone divorce and promote all types of relationships as 'functionally equivalent'. We value inclusion rather than commitment. The abortion rate is increasing with 16,410 babies terminated in 2001 while the birth rate declines. According to a new Ministry of Women's Affairs action plan, a woman's primary role is now defined by the state in terms of how she can contribute to paid employment, or at least, how this can be juggled with having and rearing children.

What's a better way? We need policy to reflect that we are relational beings desperately in need of stability and connectedness. Economic or any other measure of "progress" must understand this; otherwise the dislocation and confusion will continue to reflect the trends now increasingly evident.

The new "creative class" --------------------------------------------------------------------------- The secret to a thriving city is its ability to attract a new creative class who "crave stimulation not escape" and who value "creativity, individuality, difference and merit." So says Professor Richard Florida from Carnegie Melton University in Pittsburgh, who is visiting New Zealand for the Knowledge Wave 2003 conference this week.

His book The Rise of the Creative Class ranks American cities according to a "Creativity Index". The creative class create "meaningful new forms" and think independently. "Talented people seek an environment open to differences. Many highly creative people, regardless of ethnic background or sexual orientation, grew up feeling like outsiders, different in some way from most of their schoolmates," he says.

Florida speaks of building new forms of social cohesion but he does so without a clear civil society framework. New groups and associations may help define who we are, but intergenerational families remain primary. Diversity does not float free of social responsibility. His analysis of cities may be valid in the United States but given our small population, it makes sense to think nationally and not just of particular cities or even regions. Diversity is not the only breeding ground for creativity, and the idea of an entrepreneurial 'class' would surely make serious classical and neo-Marxists nervous.

In spite of the media emphasis on Florida's gay index, creativity is not limited to those groups identified by an academic. He marginalises the natural family, and in doing so, overvalues the creativity of the groups he identifies. He seems to be saying that creativity in any given city is the consequence of the activities of diverse groups, but really the vitality of any city or society is the product of much more than this.

On the move - transience and low decile schools --------------------------------------------------------------------------- As the school year gets underway, a new report indicates that in South Auckland the equivalent of a middle-sized school shifts every week of the year. The Child Poverty Action Group has released a report prepared by housing expert Alan Johnson, on the scale of transience in South Auckland - one of the poorest areas of New Zealand.

Mr Johnson said that "The findings of the report prove what many social commentators have been saying for years; the lack of stable and secure housing for those on low incomes leads to significant levels of transience. This has significant impacts on the educational outcomes for the children involved." He adds, "They are losing educational opportunities that will impact on all our communities in the future - the interruptions in their education mean they are less likely to gain qualifications and therefore enter high paid and productive employment."

Many families face real concerns of this kind, and the link with educational underachievement cannot be denied. We generally consider mobility to be a positive and accepted part of modern life, but Mr Johnson rightly points out there is a down side and not all movement is desirable. What he omits to say is that split and fractured families compound housing problems. Even those who live in one place but habitually move across town to see Dad at the weekend (as determined by the courts) experience something of the destabilising effects of mobility. Fractured families add to hardship. In highlighting housing concerns we have to acknowledge that the devaluation of marriage also affects the learning outcomes of children.

Political correctness - the ideological disease of our time --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Political correctness, how mad and bad is it? What can we do about it? Maxim is hosting talks in Auckland and Christchurch by an international expert on the topic Dr Frank Ellis. The title of his address is: 'Understanding Political Correctness and Multiculturalism: Lessons from the former Soviet Empire.' Frank Ellis is a lecturer in Russian at the University of Leeds, England, he is widely published on subjects ranging from Soviet and Russian media, censorship, Marxism, political correctness and defence. These talks will entertain and expose the ideological disease of political correctness.

Places are going quickly for the Auckland event on Friday 28 February, 5.30 to 7.30 p.m. at Maxim Institute, 49 Cape Horn Road, Hillsborough. Entry is $10 at the door and includes drinks and nibbles. To register call 09 627 3261 or email mailto:amanda@maxim.org.nz. The Christchurch talk will be over lunch from 12.30 to 1.45 p.m. on Monday 3 March at the Christchurch Club, corner of Durham and Worcester Streets, cost $20. To register call 03 343 1570 or email mailto:denise@maxim.org.nz

Prostitution bill - narrowly passes second reading --------------------------------------------------------------------------- The prostitution bill passed its second reading last night by 62 to 56 votes. To see how MPs voted on this conscience issue and to read Maxim's media release please visit our website: www.maxim.org.nz

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Franklin D. Roosevelt --------------------------------------------------------------------------- There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still

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