I recommend the Institute of Economic Affairs latest publication, Patricia Morgan’s ‘The war between the State and the Family: How government divides and impoverishes’.
This is a work in the tradition of such writers as Charles Murray showing how the combination of various government benefits and schemes (rather than any one benefit) have helped undermine the traditional family and increased welfare dependency and poverty, both in Britain and in other countries.
One of the important elements of this little work is that it shows that many of the very people who denounce the increase in inequality (for whilst there has been no great increase in absolute poverty, as the income of a person on benefits today is at least as high as that of many working people in the 1940′s, there has been an increase in inequality) in various Western nations have supported the policies that have undermined families and increased inequality.
Also the work shows how the targeting of the ‘truly needy’, something done by Conservative governments from the start of the 1980′s onwards by, contrary to media reports, increasing government support for such people, had very bad consequences.
Many libertarians may be wary of someone like Patricia Morgan who clearly supports the old style family of wife looking after the children and husband bringing home the money: the dream of the Victorian working class which, by the end of the century, they had largely achieved, and this suspicion may be increased by Dr Morgan’s support for favourable treatment of the traditional family by the tax system; which was something that was only important in a few decades after the World War II – as before the war the majority of families did not pay income tax. But her arguments should not be dismissed out of hand simply because she is a “reactionary”.
Patricia Morgan argues that what has happened over the last few decades in Britain and some other nations (the vast increased in the percentage of births out of wedlock, the growth in one parent households, and the vast growth of dependency on money from the government) is not some ‘natural’ example of ‘social evolution’, but has been driven by government policies – policies of governments of parties of both “left” and “right”.
Certainly Dr Morgan may be attacked for implying that everything was O.K. with the family before the state became involved (as I have stated above the situation where the vast majority of families earned a decent income and were free of government support and abject poverty was an achievement of economic and social development over the Victorian period, it was not always so).
Also Patricia Morgan can be attacked for a Chicago school style ‘economic man’ approach where human beings react to monetary incentives almost (although not quite) to the exclusion of other factors.
However, one does not have to believe that the growth in government support has caused all the negative developments, in Britain and other lands, over the last few decades to believe that it has helped cause them.
With the advance of technology and economic development over the last few decades families should be stronger and poverty should be much less. Just as family life was vastly better in 1901 than it had been in, for example, 1837. Yet who would argue that families are stronger now than they were in say 1960?
Also the changes in behaviour (not just in Britain, but in such nations as the United States, Australia and New Zealand) can often be dated back to the specific years in which there were changes in the benefit structure, and (in the case of the United States) certain changes in benefit structure can be argued to have achieved the ‘impossible’ task of, in certain respects, turning the clock back.
Whilst this does not prove Patricia Morgan’s case beyond all doubt, it does mean that the case of this lady is worth a look.