We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The weasel word – ‘social’

The late FA Hayek once memorably denounced the way in which socialistically inclined writers used the word ‘social’ to shred any word with which it was conjoined of meaning. For instance, ‘social justice’ begs the question of what sort of ‘justice’ is involved: it is a term which implies that one accepts, for instance, the notion that wealth and property is held collectively and therefore must be ‘distributed’ in accordance with some sort of pattern deemed to be just. Social sucks the content out of the word it is put against, just as the weasel sucks the contents of an egg (hence ‘weasel word’).

So when I heard that the UK government had created a “social bank” to seize unclaimed money from “dormant” bank accounts, I knew what to expect:

AT LEAST £80m ($154m, €116m) of unclaimed monies left in high street bank accounts will be used to fund the establishment of a social investment bank.

The new institution, which will be unveiled at the end of this week, will help finance charities and community groups and lead to the emergence of a viable social investment market, its proponents claim.

What is so troubling about this creation is the assumption, baked into the very idea of this body, that wealth that has not been claimed for a set period is automatically the property of the State. In practical terms, it may be the case that very few people will be inconvenienced by this action, and for all I know, much good may be achieved by this bank. But the presumption on which it rests is a further step, a further sign, that property rights are under assault in this country.

For some enlightenment, meanwhile, I strongly recommend this collection of essays on property rights. I somehow doubt that Chancellor Gordon Brown has time to read it as he prepares his last budget next Wednesday, but it he could do a lot worse.

21 comments to The weasel word – ‘social’

  • Midwesterner

    What is so troubling about this creation is the assumption, baked into the very idea of this body, that wealth that has not been claimed for a set period is automatically the property of the State.

    Actually, Johnathan, the assumption is that everything already is the property of the state (including people). The state is merely trying to put ‘its own’ assets to ‘better’ uses than the present custodians are.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Mid, indeed.

  • Charles

    It seems they have also replaced the word “spending” with the word “investment”. I recall watching a Parlimentary question time and Tony Blair kept using the term “investment”; investment in education, investment in nation health, even more investment in police salaries, etc. I suppose the word sounds better than “spending” to the general public. But I wonder if the children have caught on and now ask their prents for some money to invest in some chocolates or video games.

  • How long until we start getting ‘social freedom’, ‘social liberty’ and, god help us, ‘social education’?

  • CFM


    Don’t look now, but we already have all three.

    I think I hear Rod Serling’s voice . . .

  • Sunfish

    If what politicians do is ‘invest,’ then should the investments be subject to regulation? After all, Fidelity needs to disclaim “past performance is no indicator of future performance, all investments carry the risk of loss…”

    If the money I put into equity index funds in my IRA has a risk of loss, then doesn’t money I send DC have the same? And therefore, shouldn’t the SEC be crawling up the Congress’ collective behinds with flashlights?

  • nostalgic

    Sounds like robbery to me. When I was divorced a number of years ago, a joint savings account was frozen and in the intervening years forgotten. This money is half mine and half my ex’s – it does NOT belong to the Government.

  • MarkE

    When I first saw a reference to this some time ago it helped overcome my laziness and make me get some old accounts sorted. One of them was in a similar position to notalgic’s and I was faced with a major problem of conscience; I could negotiate and pay a lawyer more than was in the account; I could do nothing and give it all to the government; or I could give it all to my ex wife. After much soul searching I decided I dislike my ex less than I dislike lawyers or politicians so she got it all.

  • R C Dean

    What is so troubling about this creation is the assumption, baked into the very idea of this body, that wealth that has not been claimed for a set period is automatically the property of the State.

    Actually, my vague recollection from my bar review days is that it has ever been thus. Abandoned property, defeasance, and all that is a venerable common law tradition.

    Of course, the way it used to work is that the state would hold the property for a set period of time, publish announcements, and make at least a token show of trying to find the true owners before taking title itself. This reads much more like an outright grab.

  • Nick M

    I heard a green commentator recently going on about how government subsidised airlines. What he actually meant was that aviation fuel wasn’t taxed at the rate of petrol or diesel. Weasel words indeed.

    I actually find the idea that someone being richer than I am in some way harms me deeply offensive. I want people to be well off. Then I can charge more for my services! When I turn up to fix a PC I like seeing a Mercedes in the drive. It means that I will be paid on the nail and in full. No, I don’t like getting 40 quid split into installments as and when somebody’s benefits turn-up.

    It is the duty of the rich man to provide employment to the artisan.

  • Midwesterner

    I have ~$100 that the state of Wisconsin has been supervising for ~25 years. It has to do with me not be able to prove I lived at the address the money is associated with. We moved into the place, set up our addresses, then they renumbered all of the addresses. By the time I found out I had money to claim about 10 years later, I had lost or discarded everything with the original address number on it.

    In Wisconsin as I understand it, the present law is that the government will hold it forever if need be, but not pay you interest. And I thought not getting the interest was a bad thing. Pheww…

    Another thing, I’ve heard that in the US the IRS is the most strongly motivated party to see that lottery prizes are awarded (so that they can take their cut). It sounds like in the UK they would just take the whole thing.

  • n


    Lottery (and similar prizes) are actually tax-free in the UK. It is one of the few ways we’re better than the US.

    WI has a population of about 5-6 million? And by global standards they’re reasonably well-off? So why does the government feel the need to hang onto $100 like grim-death? Now I appreciate the principle you’re talking about over your $100 but as someone who temped for a couple of government departments in the UK there is also the issue of the grotesque waste involved in denying you access to your 100 bucks. I’ll bet you a coke that tying up that small sum cost the tax-payers of what is afterall quite a wealthy part of the world more than just letting you have it.

    I would call NICO and DEFRA kleptocratic if they had been more competent. You ought to ask me about DEFRA. Given your agricultural experience it will outrage you.

  • Midwesterner

    All they want is for me to prove that I am the same person who’s name is on the money. I appreciate that effort, I just wish they could allow a little more flexibility in making the connection. It is a refund on a cancelled insurance policy. Certainly the insurance company must have more data than a name and street address. Maybe the rest of the data is covered by confidentiality laws.

    In any case, I’m not complaining. The state sends me letters from time to time over the years asking if I am one and the same person and telling me how to prove it and claim it.

    The purpose (and success) of the Wisconsin law is to discourage companies from profiting for failure to return money by taking that money away from those companies and placing it in escrow. The interest on the escrowed money presumably covers the cost of the service and in general, I have no fundamental complaints, just procedural ones. I actually think this is one of the few successful attempts to do something they actually should, namely enforcing of private contracts.

    … DEFRA. Given your agricultural experience it will outrage you.

    Not much in or near agriculture doesn’t, anymore.

  • steve

    Social Socialism works for me

  • lucklukcy

    The objective of “Social Justice” tag is obviously to reach a definition of “Social Crime”. After that is established the powers of the sate can be use.

  • Paul Marks

    Just as the weasel can (supposedly) suck the contents out of egg whilst still leaving the shell in place, so the “weasel word” social can leave the courts in place, and the professors of law (and all the rest of it) whilst sucking the content out of the word “justice”.

    “You are taking my stuff. There are laws and courts to prevent this!”

    “Not at all – it is not your stuff, the academics and the legislature and the courts decide who should have it”.

    Once “income and wealth” is to be “distributed” according to some predetermined pattern (in order to prevent some people being “too rich” or “too poor” or whatever), or once people have to prove that their having a certain amount of “income and wealth” is for the “general good” then the property of no person is safe.

  • RC Dean: just because it has ever been thus, does not necessarily mean that this is the way it should be. If I find a buck on the sidewalk, and no one claims it, should I turn it over to the government?

  • nick g

    Alisa, why would you want to hang onto the money? Why don’t you trust the government to spend it wisely? I’m sensing a lot of anti-government hostility and paranoia here. I think you should just mail the government any excess cash you have on you right now! You don’t want to be greedy do you? Before you know it, you’ll be not only hanging onto that buck, but trying to invest it! You’ll turn into a capitalist before your husband’s eyes. Don’t let this happen to you! Keep North Egypt the Kibbutzic paradise that is the hope of the world!!! (Of course, if by ‘buck’ you meant ‘male dear’, take it home and eat it before it goes rotten.)

  • It’s Eastern PA to you!

  • nick g

    I’ll bite- is that your name, or your address? What will you be called next comment, and how are we to know what to call you? A lady only has the prerogative to change her mind, not her name!