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What Our Ex-Mormon PM Should Bring Us From Her Heritage

  • November 29th, 2018

 This post is an edited contribution from L Prosser who knew our Prime Minister in her Mormon days

A little over a year ago, Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s first ex-Mormon Prime Minister. She has said she left the church (in her 20s) because of its stance on homosexuality. Whatever one thinks of the Mormon Church’s views on sex or the metaphysical, it’s a shame that Ms Ardern has not lead us into paying more attention to how America’s majority-Mormon state (Utah) governs itself. I hope her failure to lead on welfare policy is not because she’s been anxious to deny her heritage. Her party – which once claimed its welfare policy was just Christianity in Action – needs to reform its creation. As originators, Labour are best placed politically to deliver genuine reform.

But why look to her Mormon heritage? Why not? The PM is clearly comfortable with  state sponsorship of religion – last month she gifted $1.9m  to Ratana. Her Ministers happily hand out large sums to repair favoured churches.

Utah is a model for cost-effective government that leverages rather than crowds out civil society. And its social outcomes should be the envy of progressives everywhere. Utah pioneers created their state in a desert no one else wanted. The state now has the highest birth rate in the USA, and the lowest child poverty

31% of the Utah population of around 3 million identify as irreligious, only a little below the US average, and only 40% of Salt Lake City’s people are LDS church members (62% across the state). But they have the USA’s highest proportion of ‘very religious’ people (55%).

Fewer people live below the poverty line in Salt Lake City than in any other major US city. Utah’s capital also boasts the highest levels of upward social mobility anywhere in the US. It has achieved this in spite of miserly public spending, being outspent by almost every other state.

One important reason for its success is that Utah’s government doesn’t seek to displace civil society, but rather relies on it. Welfare programmes are staffed by volunteers, and people in need are referred to other members of the community who might be able to assist. Utah’s bureaucrats focus on ensuring that community resources are engaged to support their efforts. This stands in stark contrast to the left’s complaints that philanthropy undermines democracy and threatens the welfare state. A journalist meeting with officials in Utah noted that they were surprisingly cheerful and, uniquely in her experience, didn’t complain of a lack of resources.

Because Utah’s poor are supported by their community, welfare spending is discerning in a way that would be profoundly offensive to the progressive left. Needy Utahans shop for food not with food stamps, but often with ‘Bishop’s orders’ spelling out an individualised list of items approved by the bishop handling each case. These orders are tailored to meet needs, not wants – Utah’s welfare system clearly states in intention to “sustain human life, not lifestyle”. This support is delivered alongside a firm push for the recipient to return to self-reliance, and they are expected to work in exchange for the support they receive. Welfare is not a career choice in Utah, unlike in other parts of the US or indeed New Zealand where Ardern’s government seems determined to make escaping welfare dependency ever harder.

Shane Jones’ determination that his mokopuna should get off their couches to plant trees has gone nowhere. Labour ideology has won, and Northland will get more immigrants so the whanau can stay on their couches.

Another feature of Utah is its high marriage rate. More children in Utah are raised by married parents than anywhere else in the US. Research by economist Raj Chetty reinforces older work by Sawhill and Haskins showing that one of the best predictors of high upward social mobility is a high marriage rate. Moreover, children from single-parent households do better in the long term if raised in communities with higher proportions of two-parent households. It appears that stable families produce a positive externality for the wider community. The mechanism for this is unclear, but it seems plausible that growing up in a community of stable families provides children from broken homes with access to more positive role models than had they grown up in a community in which broken families are the norm.

Ardern, meanwhile, leads a new government one of whose first stated intentions was to make it easier for fathers to take no responsibility for their children. Moreover, Ardern is committed to ensuring that the children of those deadbeat dads will be locked into schools in which everyone they meet will come from a similar background. Labour and the Greens signal their commitment to equality by demanding ever greater education expenditure, yet Utah’s high levels of social mobility are achieved despite its spending less per student on education than any other state in the US. This fits with academic research failing to find any significant effect from school funding on kids’ outcomes.

The key advantage of attending an elite school is mixing with other kids whose parents could afford to send them to an elite school. Utah’s schools appear to be uncommonly good at mixing kids from upper and lower classes. Evidence suggests this supports social mobility by building networks between classes. Whatever Ardern may seek to signal through spending,  she leads a government committed to school zoning, which locks poor children into schools with other poor kids, and which is implacably hostile to charter schools that might allow kids to mix outside their own communities.

Despite Ardern’s stated reasons for leaving the Mormon Church, Salt Lake City has a surprising strong gay community, which has worked with church leaders to achieve a compromise that supports coexistence without either group apparently feeling the need to de-platform the other.

Rejecting beliefs one has inherited from one’s parents can be a sign of thoughtfulness and intelligence. It reflects well on Ardern that she was willing to stand on principle, if that is what she did, to leave the church in which she was raised. It would reflect still better on her if she was willing to learn from what Mormons have got right, to  refine the political dogma which appears to have replaced her religion.

Enough is now known of human suffering from value-free-dependency, and the subsidization of incapable feral parenting, to make welfare reform a duty of the left. They claim welfare as their territory. Just as the  Roman Church is now being held liable for how its agents actually behaved, instead of being allowed to hide behind their claimed purposes, so too the Left my some day have to acknowledge the human wreckage from responsibility-free welfare. The Left has repudiated its founders’ determination that  generous care would not extend to people who did not deserve it. They expected it to be confined to people who would not abuse it, and they were aware of the risk that respect for others would be lost, along with self respect, if welfare became a bludger’s right.

Jacinda Ardern is uniquely placed to force the Left to look at what has actually happened to those worthy intentions.



Not only has the PM divorced Mormonism though; Labour has turned its back on Applied Christianity. They have re-imagined MJ Savage’s welfare state as one of obligation-free assistance. It was anything but.

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