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UBI is a political cancer, and will kill us if it is not extirpated

My topic today is Universal Basic Income, a.k.a. UBI, which I regard as nothing less than a cancer of the mind, and which I fear may soon become a cancer on society. The origin of this metastatic neoplasm was supposedly innocent intellectual woolgathering by libertarian economists, but it may yet end far less innocently.

Most libertarians understand that it is insufficient to have good intentions for a proposed policy, as good intent does not imply good results. In the end, all policies are implemented not in a utopia inhabited by angels, but rather in a society composed of self-interested humans. Laws are administered not by divine spirits but by politicians and bureaucrats who are themselves self-interested, and who possess all the foibles of the flesh.

Advocates always say social engineering would work if ‘done right’, but the possibility of ‘doing it right’ is zero in the real world. Public choice economics is no more avoidable than physics; you can no more handwave it away than you can handwave away the second law of thermodynamics.

In some theoretical sense, of course, physics seems more rigid than the rules of human behaviour, because individual humans can to some extent choose how to behave, but in practice, once you have huge masses of people involved, the law of large numbers takes over, and the force of their natural behaviour is only slightly less inexorable than gravitation. One needs to remind oneself of that early and often when thinking about proposed political policies, even in an academic context.

In spite of this principle being well understood by libertarians, the notion of UBI has taken root in parts of our community, and it has now even spread into the wider society, having infected the minds of many intellectuals on the left and right.

For those that are not familiar with the term, UBI (Universal Basic Income) means, roughly, “the government should guarantee everyone some minimum level of income whether they work or not”.

The notion began simply enough. Some economists observed that there are a myriad of intersecting government programs for the poor (in many countries, dozens) which distort behaviour in horrible ways and which cost a fortune in overhead to administer. This is where the problem of UBI begins, in the hubris of the armchair philosopher. “What if”, these economists asked, “we can’t get rid of the dole entirely (even though that would be better) but we could at least make it efficient by replacing the entire morass with a single program, say a negative income tax?”

Trained to explore ideas (no matter how bad) for a living, said academic economists then vigourosly explored this impossible hypothetical world in which they could not get rid of the dole but could somehow get politicians to perfectly implement their hypothetical improved alternative, and proceeded to write lots of papers about it.

Again, this academic musing was already a utopian impossibility, for in the real world, there are interests that would act to block the elimination of existing welfare schemes and insist that the new scheme be added to the current ones rather than replacing them. This sort of thing is routine, of course; originally, VAT schemes were thought of by academic economists as a less distorting replacement for income taxes but ended up added in addition.

The interest groups arrayed against replacement of existing welfare schemes range from the bureaucrats whose job it is to administer said schemes (and who for whom ‘efficiency’ means unemployment), to the vast range of contractors employed in providing benefits of one sort or another, to the politicians who get votes and power in exchange for largesse paid for with other people’s money, to the current recipients of existing benefit schemes who will correctly reason that the notion behind ‘efficiency’ is not to increase their benefits. There’s no advantage in replacement for any member of the existing system, and thus, it was a non-starter to begin with.

This did not, however, prevent many people from falling in love with the idea, as wouldn’t-it-be-ever-so-elegant-if-it-could-happen so often trumps this-is-reality in the minds of those saying ‘what if’ over a pint or seven late in the evening at the pub next to the economics department offices.

Oh, and of course, a form of the negative income tax was created in the United States under the name of the ‘earned income tax credit’; as might have been predicted in advance, it was added to existing welfare programs rather than in any way replacing them.

From this simple yet benighted beginning as a completely unrealistic thought experiment, the idea of UBI gained traction and then, as most cancers do, developed a mutant and even more virulent cell line, one that allowed it to spread and grow in the minds not only of leftists (who are already inclined towards redistribution of all sorts) but those on the right who are inclined to view ordinary people as useless.

We are now informed that UBI is a solution to a different problem as well. We are informed, in not-so-hushed tones, that the rise of new technologies like Artificial Intelligence will soon automate away most jobs, resulting in a vast class of people who will be unemployable in any trade whatsoever, which will consequently lead to mass unemployment, and that said permanently unemployable people will starve to death if we don’t find ways to provide them with income.

We are told we thus must guarantee a minimum income for all, without regard to whether they are capable of earning a living on their own, or we’ll have riots on our hands once AI based systems become ubiquitous. They claim that we should, nay, must, promise everyone some minimal subsistence income, whether they work or not. This will provide the masses with the ability to survive, and thus society will be preserved.

I note that this ‘automation will lead to mass unemployment’ scenario contradicts centuries of experience in which, rather than leading to mass starvation, various forms of automation have always led to vast increases in human welfare as per capita productivity skyrockets, and old jobs have simply been replaced with new ones.

However, we’re told that this time, it’s different. “We’ve never seen automation this thorough and extreme!” we’re told. “AIs can replace white collar workers, not just blue collar! No one will be useful any more!” Well, maybe. But as it has not happened yet, and Ricardo’s comparative advantage argument remains intact even if AIs exist, I remain quite skeptical that “this time, it’s different.”

Regardless, in their zeal to fix a problem that might or might not happen at an undefined time in the future, the UBI advocates may create a problem that’s far, far worse. (That’s even ignoring, for the moment, the fact that insisting that some people be allowed to live off of resources taken by force from others is deeply immoral.)

If you promise people an income regardless of whether they work or not, many will decide not to work, as not working is attractive. Once they have decided not to work, they become dependent on the state for their continued ability to survive while not working, and become inclined to vote for increased benefits. Starting as a safety net, the UBI will be seen as an ordinary way for people to live, and advocates will demand ever more. They will scream “no one can survive on £700 a month! It forces people to live in squalor! The UBI must be raised to £1200 a month!”, and then “£1200 is insulting when some earn millions! It must be £2000” and then “How can anyone raise a family on only £2000 a month with modern expenses in an expensive city! The UBI must rise to £3000” and on and on.

Elections, are, even at the best of times, an advance auction of stolen goods. If there’s a UBI, votes will hinge upon how much more generous with other people’s money one candidate is versus another. As benefits rise, more and more people will decide that they, too, would rather not be working, and join the class of people who only take and never make. Freed of the need to consider questions like “can we afford these children”, UBI recipients will feel happy raising larger families than they might otherwise, while those who work continue to feel the pinch of limited time and resources. If it’s truly available to all, UBI recipients will become a plurality of the populace, and then a majority, and from there, a death spiral is almost inevitable.

The larger the fraction of society on the dole, the more obviously foolish actually working will seem, the faster more people will go on the dole, and the faster the system will disintegrate. If UBI becomes a reality, most of the population is going to become unproductive, resentful of productive people, and strongly motivated to see increases in the UBI through ever increasing expropriation of the resources of the productive. Sure, we have some of that now with existing state benefits. With UBI, it will become vastly worse. Candidates buy votes now, but with UBI it will become an ever-accelerating race among politicians to see who can buy more votes with more resources stolen from an ever-shrinking productive minority. Perhaps the end could be staved off by making the franchise contingent on not being on UBI, but that’s a pipe dream; in the real world, the advocates will scream about the rich disenfranchising the poor and the like and it will never happen.

If almost everyone depends on the state for their survival, that’s the beginning of the end for that civilisation. A spiral towards a Soviet or Venezuelan style collapse is inevitable, and there’s no way to fight it in a democracy, because in a democracy, the majority get what they want, good and hard.

The only thing left for anyone who does not want to join those on the dole, anyone with assets, marketable skills, and an urge to produce, will be flight. Which will probably become illegal, because if you flee, you’re depriving the majority of your work. The system requires your slave labor to keep everyone else fed. Eventually, as in the Soviet Union, you will not even be allowed to leave.

Many advocates of UBI are probably well intentioned. That does not make the idea any less dangerously foolish; intentions do not matter much, and they matter practically not at all when an idea is sufficiently destructive. Of all the terrible ideas I’ve seen gripping the fevered imaginations of social engineers in recent years, this has been one of the worst. UBI is a political cancer, and will kill us if it is not extirpated.

104 comments to UBI is a political cancer, and will kill us if it is not extirpated

  • Itellyounothing

    UBI guarantees slavery or national service which is slavery by another name.

    If you are very lucky robots are 99% or more of the slaves but someone has to oversee the system.

    When they realise they are slaves they will rebel and starve the non productive to death.

    Or Skynet oversees itself and get bored of us. UBI seems to have a lot of bad endings without technology equalling magic and a few even with that.

  • Nullius in Verba

    Or for the tldr version:

    1. It will be corrupted by vested interests who want to maintain the status quo.

    2. It’s a welfare system, encouraging idleness, state-dependency, and political pressure to increase it.

    Both of which are just as true of all current welfare systems and proposals for same.

    Thus, to maintain the argument made here, the only policy we can logically advocate is to eliminate welfare altogether. But we’ve tried that, and it turned out that our proposal was an impractical and unachievable pipe-dream because it was opposed by vested interests who corrupted all attempts, and by people dependent on state welfare who applied political pressure to block it. Strange, eh?

  • Jon

    When I’ve read/ heard about this it’s usually on the basis of ubiquitous specific AIs or even general AI rendering us all largely pointless productively speaking. On this basis, comparisons with the industrial or information revolutions are argued not to hold because the AI can make itself exponentially smarter. The Spinning Jenny couldn’t do that. What would be the point of ever employing human labour again (or even striving to improve one’s stock of intellectual capital- we could never match up).

    I think my instincts against it rest with ‘it creates bad incentives’. Also, short of the AI deciding it didn’t need almost all of us (not unreasonably) or the ‘owners’ of the AI (if one could be said to own something more akin to a god) accruing instantly an immeasurably large economic advantage which could be taxed somehow to pay for it, I can’t really see how it can be afforded, even if all other welfare is scrapped.

  • bobby b

    If we grant every single person in society a $2000/month entitlement without raising productivity, won’t that payment simply disappear due to inflationary pressure?

    And so, won’t a UBI be the driver for the end of the welfare state? A UBI would end any means-tested basis for entitlement, and the people most damaged by it will be those for whom it is the only income – those who, under means-testing, would already get that payment anyway. It is those people who are going to suffer the most from the new pricing pressure imposed by the UBI.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    “Elections, are, even at the best of times, an advance auction of stolen goods.”
    Frighteningly put — and true.

    “I note that this ‘automation will lead to mass unemployment’ scenario contradicts centuries of experience …”
    Let’s be careful about this one. In the last three decades or more, automation (and its partner, offshoring of production to China and beyond) has not led to mass unemployment. But it has led to several unfortunate outcomes which could reasonably be described as disguised unemployment:
    1. Explosive growth in the number of people working for government in various kinds of regulatory capacities, i.e. these people are mostly overhead, wastefully reducing the productive capacity of their fellow citizens.
    2. Explosive growth in Big School, where people spend years of their lives in wasteful unproductive credentialing. Germans who are stuck in universities until the age of 30 are the classic example.
    3. Significant growth in non-participation in the labor force, often through claimed disability.

    While there probably are rational ways to reduce this unproductive waste of human capital (eg rolling back regulations and tax regimes which inhibit new business creation), the beneficiaries of the status quo will fight against this, just as they will fight against any rollback of current welfare schemes.

    Personal view — we need to know when to hold them, know when to fold them. Let’s face facts — the war has been lost. The Long March through the Institutions has been a resounding success for the usual suspects. There is no going back. But for the usual suspects, there is no going forward either. The debts they have run up already are unpayable, and the Gods of the Copybook Headings will have the final say. Collapse of Western governments is inevitable.

    But the unavoidable collapse of “liberal democracy” will not be the end of the human story, merely the end of this particular chapter. We should not take on the impossible task of trying to saving Lefties from themselves. Instead, we should take on the burden of the Irish monasteries in the Dark Ages — keeping the flame of knowledge alive so that the phoenix of civilization can someday be reborn … as indeed it will.

  • Runcie Balspune

    The basic issue of inequality is that some spend their incomes wisely whilst other’s spend on booze, tabs and scratchcards, no matter what level of income they have.

    The more liberal concern is who decides who gets the UBI, do criminals get it, does the bloke stepping off a dingy on the Devon coast get it, what about those lovely people returning from ISIS ?

    And once you’ve decided there is a “qualification” for UBI, before long you get the little local government proto-nazis denying it to you for putting recycling in the wrong bin, the Chinese-style “citizen rating” is not far off.

    At the opposite end of the scale is that capitalism and automation will make stuff so cheap you wont need an income.

  • neonsnake

    This entire post is an argument against charity, as well as UBI.

    Ridiculous.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Dammit, I wish people would not comment while I am Composing — it ruins the flow. 😡 [just kidding 😀 ] So here comes Point 3, following Nullius’s points 1 and 2.

    3. Like all governmental welfare systems, it would be a degree of slavery of those who have (for some value of “have”) the means to pay the taxes to support the system. Therefore at its root it is immoral.

    No true libertarian could possibly support this except — maybe — in the face of the direst catastrophe.

    Because the very basis, the root principle, of libertarianism is that no one may interfere with the right of self-determination of another. “You’re not the boss of me” and its corollary: “Hands off me & my stuff.”* With the usual caveats about those who are incompetent to exercise their will or their physical equipment in a reasonable manner (children, the infirm, the out-and-out defective) and those who by their actions have shown themselves unwilling or unable to respect the boundaries of freedom (liberty is not license. To take people’s stuff — including their money or other property — without their active consent is precisely to block their right of self-determination. (Randy Barnett draws the distinction between acquiescence, where you go along because somebody’s got a gun pointed at you, and consent, by which he means you go along willingly and not because there’s coercion of some sort.)

    [We acquiesce to taxation because we’d just as soon not have our version of the Inland Revenue or the IRS punishing us. Some of us, like me, actually consent to such taxation as is necessary for national defense, some sort of law enforcement, and a judicial system; although some of us, like me, can think of ways of funding minimal government that don’t involve taxation at all. But they’ll still be subject to corruption, including in ways that exist in the present system (at least in the U.S.).]

    *As true in private interactions as it is with the Gov holding the big stick.

    . . .

    For the sake of thoroughness, I’ll just mention that because the Provinces are separated by a common language from the Motherland, what the Brits and for all I know the Aussies, etc., call U.B.I., we in this neck of the woods call B.I.G. — Basic Income Guarantee.

    In other words, UBI = One BIG crock.

    . . .

    Anyway, among the evil Interrupters above, there’s bobby, with his very valuable Point 4:

    “If we grant every single person in society a $2000/month entitlement without raising productivity, won’t that payment simply disappear due to inflationary pressure? “

    According to me, that’s exactly right, if by “inflation” you mean the rise of prices in the shops which is not due to direct devaluation of the currency by the government, and I include QUANGOs, if you consider the Federal Reserve to be such.

    But, no, bobby, I don’t think that will lead to the demise of the welfare state. Not without some sort of active (violent) revolution. The standard response to welfare malaise is to lay on more of it. The only hope would be to acculturate people out of believing in it.

  • neonsnake

    The basic issue of inequality is that some spend their incomes wisely whilst other’s spend on booze, tabs and scratchcards, no matter what level of income they have.

    There’s nothing wrong with inequality. If I choose to spend my earned income on booze and fags, that’s my business.

    criminals get it, does the bloke stepping off a dingy on the Devon coast get it, what about those lovely people returning from ISIS ?

    Yep. All of them. As long as all it provides is a very basic living. Not booze and fags.

    That’s the point. Everyone. No means testing based on what we think is appropriate. Just the basics, and no more.

  • bobby b

    “This entire post is an argument against charity . . .”

    Maybe this is simply word games, but isn’t this post an argument FOR charity and against entitlement?

    “Charity” is a dirty word for some, as it places the discretion with the giver. Government-centric types hate that – they want government to have the discretion as to who gets help and who doesn’t. They want government to have the power of granting charity out of my dollars, because I might choose recipients badly. And, of course, they want to be the government.

    Means-tested welfare went a long way towards killing charity, and a UBI will go a long ways towards killing means-tested welfare. Each such move is occasioned by removing our individual power over our own resources and bestowing them upon government. UBI makes it complete. How tough would it be to remove “hate-talkers” from the UBI rolls if you can ignore means testing?

  • neonsnake

    as it places the discretion with the giver

    Tricky for sure.

    On a purely personal viewpoint – I want no discretion. No means testing, no discussion of who “deserves it”.

    If you fall below the ceiling, I want you to be looked after. No ifs, no buts.

    That probably deviates from Libertarian purity and libertarian Political Correctness, but still – that’s my view.

    I just don’t want a panel of people deciding who deserves what.

    UBI is not perfect, and it may not be what I’m aiming for – but it’s better, arguably, than out current system, and we may have to accept that as a starting point.

    I’d rather go for realistic goals than fairy tales.

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby. In a word, YES. Also, your second para is right on. On your third, more below.

    .

    Let us all remember that UBI stands for Universal Basic Income: Everybody gets that much. BIG is also supposed to be guaranteed minimum income, but there’s much discussion as to whether every man woman and chicken in the country gets a check for the same amount of $ X00000… regardless of actual earnings, or whether people get just enough to bring their total income to $ Y00, or whether people already make more than the level so don’t get any “universal” income. And the much-touted point about how much cheaper “a UBI system” or “a BIG system” would be than the present system is only true if all government welfare is eliminated [[including “charitable” deductions, although Richard (Epstein) points out that when you take a deduction for giving to charity, you are at least directing where your forced-charity (contradiction in terms, of course) goes].

    .

    neon, I’m not sure whether you’re serious or are being sarcastic. But in any case, the argument against any governmental welfare scheme is not charity at all, because charity is voluntarily giving as much as you like to whatever persons or groups whose need for it you feel most strongly.

    But governmental welfare schemes are paid for by the taxpayer, whether he wants to contribute to anybody or not. Furthermore, his tax money goes to X,Y,Z, regardless of whether he would prefer it to go to A,B,C. At its root, government welfare including the “social safety net,” which term usually means government “programs,” although there used to be a social safety net supported by charitable individuals, by churches and (I daresay) synagogues, by local organizations such as the Community Chest, by fraternal societies like the Masons, the Moose, the Elks, the Oddffellows, the Lions Clubs, Rotary, the Kiwanis. I believe that you had many of these organizations in the UK also. And by the way, the support that families gave to their relatives and to some extent still do; they also are part of what I’ll call the “legitimate social safety net,” or the “privately-supported social safety net.”

    And according to my own reading of works in which I have some trust, I’ll go even farther than bobby (who has it right, as far as he goes), and say that in general government welfare drives out private charity.

    Because:

    1. Whatever you have to give to the Gov is $ you can’t give to real charity simply because you no longer have it to give. And

    2. If George swears he’s going to fix everybody’s roof or broken shoulder or inability to read, a very large swath of humanity will go, Fine, let George do it. And after awhile people get used to the idea that George is gonna do it, and take the system for granted, and clutch their pearls at the thought that the Gov might get out of the biz. I mean, Who will provide education? Hospitals? Medical treatment? Housing (i.e. shelter)? FOOD??

  • UBI experiments have been done with clear results (reduced incentive to work, etc.) – but not very different from other welfare state arrangements. In principle, a negative income tax offers more incentive to work, but whatever it pays to someone whose earned income is zero is effectively a UBI. And what is the dole but UBI with an earnings threshold. And if UBI is nominally ‘given’ to everyone rather than everyone whose earned income is below some value, it is still paid for by everyone whose income is above some other value – for them it is just a rebate (though if, like ’employers’ national insurance, it could hide from employees their true level of tax then in that case I would grant its form could do innate evil over and above welfare’s general evil).

    In short, I’m not wholly sure of the innate evil of UBI over and above rival welfare schemes, though prepared to be convinced. If it happens at all, I’d sooner it were in the form of a negative income tax – but of course that is just as capable of being an addition, not a replacement, for all the reasons the OP gives.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Julie: “Not without some sort of active (violent) revolution.”

    There may ultimately be active revolution — but that revolution is going to happen AFTER we have already gone to Hell in a handbasket. The reason that we are even now on the train heading to Hell is the accumulation of unrepayable debt, especially government debt (including the unpayable entitlements which our betters do not count as debt). The numbers are staggering, Julie! Each US taxpayer today owes a $175,000 share in the National Debt, growing every year. Including the unfunded liabilities like Social Security, we each are saddled with $1,700,000 of US government obligations — which is close to what the average American earns in his entire lifetime. And that big number is before adding in the debt the bankrupt State of Illinois is going to drop on those who live near Chicago!

    Debt would not be a problem, except that one person’s debt is another person’s asset. When the debts can’t get paid, prudent savers are going to find that they are destitute, holding only worthless assets. At that point, everyone gets angry — the welfare/UBI recipient who no longer gets money from a bankrupt state, and the formerly productive citizens who see their assets evaporate. Hard to avoid social disruption at that point. Not pretty, but it will inevitably happen; the only question is — When?

    As someone once said — What cannot continue, will not continue.

  • On a purely personal viewpoint – I want no discretion. No means testing, no discussion of who “deserves it”. If you fall below the ceiling, I want you to be looked after. No ifs, no buts. (neonsnake, August 18, 2019 at 9:21 pm)

    If you are using your own money, neonsnake, then please feel free to take the decision out of both your (the giver’s) hands and the receivers’ hands and place it in the hands of third parties who have no incentive to economise cost to the givers or maximise value to the receivers or minimise transfer costs that accrue to themselves. How you find these high-minded people is entirely up to you – if it’s your money.

    However if you plan to use my money then, after I ask that you please stop stealing from me, I will also ridicule your plan to remove an incentivised party from all control of the scheme.

  • morsjon

    If UBI were to be restricted to citizens only then it would make it more difficult for non-citizens (including immigrants) to compete in the market place. Wages would get bid down to the point where ‘UBI plus wage’ equaled what an immigrant would be willing to work for. I don’t see this effect discussed often, although Andrew Yang recently clarified that his UBI would only be available to citizens.

    This ties in with the inflation point mentioned previously.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Gavin,

    If you mean we would have to pass Venezuela before getting to Revolutionland, I think that’s true. But what would have to happen to get to a shooting Civil War, I’m not sure. I tend to think that (continued? Or are not really there yet?) Cold Civil War is more likely, at least over the next 20 years or so.

    Other than that, I agree on all points. I would, with sadness, leave my home state if it didn’t mean leaving the Young Miss & Mr., and of course the GrandKitty. I don’t want to go live in some nursing home in Indiana or someplace.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “When I’ve read/ heard about this it’s usually on the basis of ubiquitous specific AIs or even general AI rendering us all largely pointless productively speaking.”

    Good! If everything is available for free, we don’t *need* jobs!

    People persist in thinking that more jobs and higher wages are the source of wealth. Wrong! Jobs and wages are the price we pay for wealth, which actually comes from the goods and services being produced. A job makes us poorer – we have to work, which is a cost, and do boring horrible uncomfortable stuff we don’t want to do instead of fun stuff we enjoy. We exchange the cost having a job for the benefits of the goods and services that make us richer. Because at the moment producing goods and services require effort, it’s a cost we’re forced to pay. But if ever we invent machines to produce the goods and services for us *without* having to work for it, that’s brilliant! It means prices drop, and we can get everything we want and need for less/no effort.

    “If we grant every single person in society a $2000/month entitlement without raising productivity, won’t that payment simply disappear due to inflationary pressure?”

    The idea is that it does raise productivity.

    All the problems in the above essay apply to welfare generally. We don’t like to see people starve, so when they fall below a certain acceptable minimum, we pay them welfare at that minimum level. But this means there are a whole bunch of people who get paid the same whether they work or not, and incentives being what they are, they’ll obviously choose not to work. Why sweat 40 hours a week to earn the same money you can get on benefits sat on the sofa watching TV? There’s no incentive not to. And that traps a load of people in the benefits system, unable to reach the bottom rung of the ladder, and breeds the entitlement mindset that calls for its expansion.

    But suppose you allow that people on benefits because they’re below the minimum can earn more than the minimum by also working. Instead of their pay/effort curve being flat, it always slopes upwards. The more you work, the more you’re paid. Now the incentive is to get off the sofa and go out to work, because you’re not losing the whole of your wages in reduced benefits by doing so. It means paying people more than the acceptable minimum, it means those people currently on the minimum will get paid more, and that’s obviously going to cost society more, but it gets them back into production, gaining work experience and on-the-job training, and that reduces the cost to society. It’s also less culturally corrosive, with fewer social costs from crime and diaffection, to have people working.

    Consider those proposals to exempt the disabled from minimum wage laws. At the moment, they can’t get jobs because they’re not productive enough to earn the minimum. But suppose you allowed them to work for below the minimum wage, and let them keep all their disability benefit, too? They would be producing more for society, they’d be better off themselves, the disability benefit we’d have to pay wouldn’t be any more, and it would give them self-respect and a constructive role in society. They wouldn’t fell like they were nothing but a burden. Are we upset about that because they end up getting paid more than the absolute minimum they need? Because it subsidises employers exploiting them for cheap labour? (Like cheap labour is a bad thing…)

    I don’t think any of the libertarians who have argued for it would say that it’s economically preferable to getting rid of benefits altogether. (Employment insurance schemes would be much better.) As Samizdata Illuminatus rightly says, welfare is a political trap – those running the system depend on it for their jobs (and are the sort to think wasteful jobs are good!), it motivates people to drop out of production, creates political pressure to expand it, and makes society overall poorer, with an especially nasty and corrosive effect on the poorest. But given the political realities (and our common humanitarian sympathy for the destitute) it’s not going to go away. So the libertarian argument is subtlely different: it is that *if* you’re going to have welfare, then UBI is a *less* damaging way to do it than what we have at present. It still has the same faults as welfare, no argument there, but less severely.

    That said, there are probably some good arguments against it. It’s potentially more expensive, unproven, and still liable to be defeated by the quirks of human economic irrationality. (If humans were rational, then we’d not have protectionism, or socialism, or minimum wage laws, or welfare economics in the first place.) But any argument against moving to it has to do more than list all the many faults of welfarism generally. You have to find faults that are specific to UBI, that make it worse than the system we’ve currently got.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Julie: “I tend to think that (continued? Or are not really there yet?) Cold Civil War is more likely, at least over the next 20 years or so.”

    I hope you are right about the 20 years or so — but it really is impossible to judge. We are in a world we have not seen before, where everyone is so inter-dependent and almost every government is so carelessly profligate. There is that old saying about how one goes bankrupt — slowly, and then quickly. Maybe we are approaching the quickly part — time will tell.

    What is fascinating is that here we are on a libertarian-leaning blog discussing an idea about how to increase government spending — when governments around the world are already spending more that they take in. It is like someone who has to borrow money to pay the interest on his credit cards going into an auto dealership to look at buying a new car. Collectively, we are behaving like idiots, but no-one seems to notice. Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister of deeply indebted Britain and leader of the “Conservative” Party — and is full of plans for new spending. Democrats run for president in the US, and compete with each other about how much more money they are going to spend — with no consideration given to the fact that they will have to borrow or print every new dollar of spending.

    I really sympathize with Neonsnake’s view — I want no discretion. No means testing, no discussion of who “deserves it”. But when the money runs out and the taxation to support that generosity means one’s own children have to go without shoes, views will change. And then changed actions will follow.

  • Fraser Orr

    This discussion, and particularly the idea of elections being an advanced sale on stolen goods, reminds me of a conclusion I have recently come to, namely that corruption is a necessary condition for democracy.

    Why? Well there are far more poor people that rich people, so poor people have vastly more voting power than rich people. Since people vote their self interest, they will vote to soak the rich. Soaking the rich depletes the rich of the capital necessary to invest in new businesses, create new factories, invent new things, and create new jobs. Consequently, soaking the rich leads very directly to the destruction of society.

    So the counterbalancing force is that the rich use their money to buy off politicians and agencies. So although the rich have far less voting power, they do have financial power to control the government at the other end. And so the rich buying off the government (which is basically a form of corruption) is a necessary part of democracy. Without it, society would collapse.

    Thoughts?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “What is fascinating is that here we are on a libertarian-leaning blog discussing an idea about how to increase government spending — when governments around the world are already spending more that they take in. It is like someone who has to borrow money to pay the interest on his credit cards going into an auto dealership to look at buying a new car.”

    It depends on the purpose of the spending. Buying a new car to have fun in is a bad idea, if you’re deep in debt. Buying a new car so you can get to work, and earn more money is more sensible.

    Spending money on welfare so people can sit on the sofa is a bad idea. Spending a little more to get them off the sofa and back into work is money better spent.

    But like I said, the argument has never been about UBI being a good idea, just that it’s a better idea than other forms of welfare. It’s a case of libertarians compromising their utopian purist principles in the name of political feasibility.

  • neonsnake

    neon, I’m not sure whether you’re serious or are being sarcastic.

    About charity? Massively 😉

    It’s the old argument that charity makes a man dependant, which I don’t agree with, context withstanding, but which is still trotted out.

    Personally, I’d rather volunteer, or cook a meal for someone, than give them money (therefore quieting my conscience at no great cost to my time) but that’s a personal viewpoint only.

    The rest, I’m serious about.

  • Personally, I’d rather volunteer, or cook a meal for someone, than give them money (therefore quieting my conscience at no great cost to my time) but that’s a personal viewpoint only. (neonsnake, August 19, 2019 at 6:28 am)

    Is this the receiver side of “no discretion” or is it a contradiction to what you wrote above?

    If you give the receiver money, this maximises their discretion as they control how to spend it. If you cook a meal for them then you are controlling what they get – food, not anything else the money could by, and nourishing food chosen by you, not junk food chosen by them or whatever. And for there to be no discretion on the giver’s side, you should not volunteer to do this be conscripted for national service of this kind.

    Alternatively, this is you saying you’d rather avoid moral hazard to the receiver by exercising your discretion as a giver. You will give a meal, not money they could spend on drugs, to a poor person you choose (e.g. not the one reeking of causing their own plight, or revolting attitudes, or whatever).

    Just trying to understand this “no discretion” stuff. I can sympathise with concern over how the bureaucrats’ and social services people abuse their discretion, but – for the reasons the OP states – I think it rash to assume that if the system exists those who administer it won’t have some. The rules will say not – but today’s rules say not.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Here’s something else that will be demanded as a right- age-retarding pills! I think that most of us have all heard about how scientists can rejuvenate old mice, so they seem to be young again. You can already get pills with the active ingredient (NAD+), so if you want to try it, nothing is stopping you. (“Alive by Nature”, “Elysium Health Basis”, etc.) FDA has not yet approved it, and will probably take years to do so, just to be absolutely sure that no-one suffers from side-effects.
    How soon before Universal NAD+ Benefits are demanded as a right or an entitlement?

  • bobby b

    “I want no discretion. No means testing, no discussion of who “deserves it”.

    If you fall below the ceiling, I want you to be looked after.”

    But that IS means-testing. I’m confused.

  • neonsnake

    Is this the receiver side of “no discretion” or is it a contradiction to what you wrote above?

    It may indeed be a contradiction of sorts, I think.

    I’m differentiating here between private charity, and government-provided welfare.

    Anecdotally, I have a family member who has been very ill for about a year, and they are currently heavily reliant on the “charity” of the rest of their family – what Julie refers to above as the “legitimate social safety net”. For my part, I could throw money at them, and I’d feel selfishly good about myself, but what they’ve asked for are cooked, nutritious meals, so that’s what I’m doing. What they actually want is time that they can spend with their little ones, not in the kitchen, so that’s what I’m indirectly providing, by giving up my own time to cook them batches of healthy food every weekend. “Selfishly”, I feel happier about this than if I’d just given them enough money to order pizza every night.

    (EDIT: that was a bit virtue-signally on re-reading. I cook anyway, so scaling up the quantity is not an enormous deal)

    As I say, personal viewpoint only! I wouldn’t want to imply that someone who hasn’t the time to cook for someone else is less “virtuous” because they give money rather than time (the money, after all, is most likely earned with time).

    To the “no discretion” point – you say “However if you plan to use my money…”

    I’m talking here about government-provided welfare. I spent a few months on the dole in 2009 (in order not to interrupt my NI credits), so let’s say (for simplicity) that I genuinely have received some of your money! An infinitesimal amount, but presumably neither of us care about the amount, it’s the principle that the government have used your taxes to give me money.

    You had no discretion over this.

    Maybe, if you’d known me, you’d say “Fair enough. He’s worked since he was 16 in Saturday jobs, he’s been in full-time work since leaving University, he’s a deserving case. He’s not a shirker.”

    Or…maybe you’d say “Is he having a laugh? He’s been working all his life, he’s got savings, and his redundancy is more than enough! Why are my taxes being used on him?”

    But the point is – you had no say in that decision. However, the good people in the Job Centre did have discretion over it. Personally, the whole experience was pretty friction-less for me, I was actively seeking work and could demonstrate such, but still – there are enormous bloated institutions who were incentivised to sanction me, question me, and generally make me feel uncomfortable. I don’t know how many of the horror stories about the DWP are true, or the scale of the problem, but still – the principle is that you had no discretion, but the government does.

    On the assumption that we will not be in a position to completely eradicate government-provided welfare any time soon (which is an assumption I believe is factually accurate), then I would rather the government has no discretion over who to spend your money on, and that we get rid of as much of the DWP as practically possible, and that everyone, no questions asked receives enough money to get them to an annual amount of £XX (I don’t know exactly how much is realistic or needed) which is enough to live on, but not enough for frivolities.

    The reasons I so firmly say “everyone, no questions asked”, is that I don’t want the government being the ones with discretion – and also, I want to remove the need to employ someone to ask the question!

    (There will, I’m sure, be outliers, which should be up for discussion, but that’s my starting point, anyway)

    I’m still unsure what the exact mechanic should be – negative income tax, maybe – but something where going to work is still worthwhile, clearly (unlike the current system, where there are certain circumstances that incentivise people to not work).

    I don’t believe that I, currently in reasonably well-paid work, should receive anything at all (which I think is what differentiates UBI from Negative Income Tax, although I may have misunderstood).

    All of this is, as said, contingent on a belief that the welfare system isn’t going anywhere.

    It’s not ideal, and I’m very aware that by supporting something like UBI, or BIG, or Negative Income Tax, or any variant of it, I’m absolutely still saying “I think the government should steal your money, and spend it on other people.”

    The only justification I can offer for that is that I’m also saying “Given that the government IS going to steal your money, I’d rather they steal less, and spend your stolen money more wisely and productively.”

  • neonsnake

    But that IS means-testing. I’m confused.

    Oh, me too, bobby! Our whole system (here in the UK at least) is so Kafka-esque, that confusion is inevitable.

    Some of our welfare systems are means-tested, some aren’t. In principle, I’d rather remove as many of those tests as practical – both to remove the discretionary manner in which they are applied, and also to remove the expensive, confusing and complicated structures that are needed to administer the means-testing.

    I’m unsure how much is practical. On reflection, I’m actually open to persuasion either way on questions like “should UBI (or similar) be given to everyone whose income drops below £XX, or should it only kick in once that individual’s capital is exhausted? Should they have to sell their house and car first?”

    It’s not a simple fix-all – but I still believe that small incremental steps in that direction are worthwhile.

  • Snorri Godhi

    If automation replaces all jobs that most people can do, then a possible solution might be to give every family a parcel of land and robots that can grow food, make clothes, and build shelter for them. Now you ask: but who provides land, robots, and raw materials for clothing and shelter? That’s a detail which i have not yet worked out 😐 but even so, it seems to me an improvement over UBI as a solution to the problem of automation IF and WHEN we have that problem.

    Getting back to UBI, i do not see how it could be worse than the current system IF people receiving an UBI are required to look for work in order to keep receiving it.

    As for the problem that the old welfare systems would not be abolished if UBI is introduced: that would not have been a problem when the Soviet Union collapsed, and it won’t be a problem when Western welfare systems collapse.

  • Y. Knott

    The answer to the problem UBI is intended to address is a nineteenth-century institution that amassed an evil name then, but offers a couple’a advantages today that UBI does not – the workhouse.

    The major failing of UBI as a concept is that these people are where they are because they’re incapable – or disinclined – of doing better. Now, what happens when you give them money? – they blow it, as quickly as possible. Then what do they eat for the other twelve days of the pay period, and how do they afford their street drugs? The answer – inevitably – is an explosion of petty crime, and with the police not even bothering to respond to petty crime anymore, we’re off to “A Clockwork Orange”.

    The workhouse has the advantage that THEY don’t spend the money on what they want; WE spend it on what they need. They can get good food and safe shelter, and possibly a bit of therapy every now ‘n then – but no drugs, and there’s no parking out front. If they get sick of the workhouse, we’ll help them get a job and become self-supporting – which MUST REMAIN the ultimate goal of any such program.

    I read somewhere that the argument that illegals in the ‘States do the jobs the locals won’t, is nonsense, because in States that have cut-back on welfare payments, the welfare recipients went out and got jobs. This obviously won’t work for everybody, but the institutions that formerly looked after them were all chopped to save money, which UBI most definitely won’t.

    The “leaner / meaner” business ethic leaves our disadvantaged behind, which too many see as a benefit of the system; but if they think they’ll save money like this, UBI will disabuse them of the notion rather harshly.

  • neonsnake

    IF people receiving an UBI are required to look for work in order to keep receiving it.

    Instinctively, I agree; however, I think it’s more likely to be successful if the incentive to find work is baked into the payment – ie. that there isn’t a circumstance where earning a salary equates to loss of other benefits, making it not cost-effective to find work, which is unfortunately the case in certain circumstances with the current system.

    Also, removing the necessity to prove that you’re looking for work removes other negatives, such as needing to employ someone to check that you’re looking for work, and also removing any ambiguity over “are you really looking? Really?” or, indeed, “are you really disabled to a point where you honestly cannot work?”

    It does, unquestionably, require a major shake-up, so potentially is as much of a pipe-dream as any other conversation along these lines, but I do find it much more politically realistic than any idea of removing welfare altogether and reverting to charitable donations to look after the truly needy.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Y. Knott astutely suggests: “The answer to the problem UBI is intended to address is a nineteenth-century institution that amassed an evil name then, but offers a couple’a advantages today that UBI does not – the workhouse.”

    The workhouse is only one of several tried-and-tested approaches which human societies developed over the centuries that modern Lefties have thrown away as being Politically Incorrect — such as the orphanage and the insane asylum. Those older approaches may have been imperfect but they still seem to have worked much better than what we are doing today. However, it is likely that improved effectiveness was not the Lefties’ goal in throwing away the lessons of history. Improving and upgrading those older approaches might be a better way forward for society — certainly better than junkies in San Francisco dropping their taxpayer-provided “free” needles on the sidewalks next to where they defecate.

    But all of this discussion, interesting as it has been, misses the main point. WE CAN’T AFFORD WHAT WE ARE ALREADY DOING! Unless we wake up and start to make the tough decisions to reduce government expenditures (and to boost tax revenues by rolling back regulations to grow the economy instead of raising tax rates), there will be much, much more misery in our futures.

  • Mr Ed

    Sometimes a UBI is called a ‘negative income tax’ to make it sound better.

    The UK already has some forms of ‘universal income’ if you meet certain pre-conditions, e.g. child benefit (called ‘the Bastard’s bounty’) by some when it came in, a payment for existing, paid to the mother of a child. Now we have working and other types of ‘tax credits’, being replaced by a benefit called ‘universal credit‘ which is meant to be simpler, but is not universal. Needless to say, there are interviews and assessments to be completed and a requirement to inform the state if your circumstances change. If there is a UBI, you only need to ‘exist’ to claim it, so it has the marginal benefit of scope for cutting down on the bureaucratic steps involved.

    It does have the terrible flaw of creating the impression that there is a ‘magic money tree’ or some ‘right’ to income without effort, which is pretty much the working understanding of some. We are biological organisms, we have to act to live. The laws of Nature never cease to operate, and natural selection is an outcome, not a prescription.

    If we all claim it and try to live on it, and no one does any work, everything will collapse, it fails to pass the reductio ad absurdam test.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Fraser Orr: “… corruption is a necessary condition for democracy.”

    Very insightful! And certainly true — depending on what the definition of ‘corruption’ is, as Bill Clinton might have said.

    The corruption in universal suffrage democracy is certainly moral corruption, where the Political Class bribes the electorate with borrowed money they will never repay. But since the Political Class defines what we jokingly refer to as the “Law”, this moral corruption is not illegal.

    Given that government has grown far beyond the limits that anyone except a convinced Communist ever conceived, I have wondered if it is necessary to divide the roles of politicians. For example, One House would be responsible for raising money, through tariffs, taxes, and outright theft — or borrowing, in extreme exigencies. A second House would be responsible for deciding how to spend that money — but would be limited to spending only the money the first House gave them that year (including saving part of it if they so chose). The two Houses would be located at opposite ends of the country. They could have a dialog, of course, but the Revenue-Raisers would have no say in how the Spenders chose to use the revenues they were given, and vice versa. There could be a Third House that would be responsible for repealing & passing laws & regulations — but would have no say in the raising or spending of money.

    Voting for representatives in the Revenue-Raising House would be limited to those citizens who had been net contributors during the prior year. Representatives in the Spending House would be randomly selected from the list of citizens. Representatives in the Law-Making House would be elected by all citizens, but would be limited to serving only one term.

    Of course, this will not happen. The mechanisms described by Tainter in his historical review “The Collapse of Complex Societies” explain why real reform to our dysfunctional governance is very unlikely.

  • neonsnake

    so it has the marginal benefit of scope for cutting down on the bureaucratic steps involved

    I believe it’s more than marginal. The DWP costs something like £6 billion a year. It’s a drop in the ocean compared to the £170 billion it pays out, but it’s still a large sum.

    If we all claim it and try to live on it, and no one does any work, everything will collapse, it fails to pass the reductio ad absurdam test.

    I don’t think that’s the most likely outcome. I believe that, if the payment is set correctly, then people will be able to live on it uncomfortably but with incentive to get back into work. Remember, we’re talking about a very small percentage of people, all of whom will be seeing their friends living with a better quality of life, able to afford better food, better toys, etc etc. As long as it avoids the “cliff edge” effect, then I believe people won’t want to live on it, but at the same time won’t starve if circumstances leave them behind.

    Currently there are many, many people, working in jobs which pay more than is required for mere survival. It’s human nature. Luckily, we appear to be hardwired for variety, where enough people want to be high-level execs (or busy plumbers and painters!) and earn more than they need, in order to have the latest consumables and have nice houses and holidays.

    So, I don’t believe we’ll end up in a situation where everyone decides to downgrade and live off the state. I don’t believe that enough people will do that to make untenable.

    I do believe that some people will do that! And, I’m, grudgingly, prepared to accept some “slippage” of that nature, if that’s what it takes.

  • Nullius in Verba

    If automation replaces all jobs that most people can do, then a possible solution might be to give every family a parcel of land and robots that can grow food, make clothes, and build shelter for them. Now you ask: but who provides land, robots, and raw materials for clothing and shelter?

    Robots will!

    “Getting back to UBI, i do not see how it could be worse than the current system IF people receiving an UBI are required to look for work in order to keep receiving it.”

    I can certainly sympathise with that. But it’s difficult to test objectively (like, how hard are you looking? If you go to job interviews in a clown suit, does that count? And if the job centre finds you an opening in the local brothel, say, do you have to take it?), and it doesn’t really apply to people like the severely disabled.

    “Sometimes a UBI is called a ‘negative income tax’ to make it sound better.”

    It’s called a negative income tax because that’s what it’s equivalent to. And doing it that way would reduce the administrative burden.

    You can combine the effects of income, working expenses, tax, and welfare into a single function, then tells you how much you get based on how much you earn. See diagram. The blue line is what you’d get if there was no tax or welfare – exactly what you earned. The red line shows a basic welfare system. If you’re below the threshold, you get the minimum socially acceptable income in welfare. This means you get the same whether you work or not, so there’s no incentive to work. The green line shows the idea of UBI, which is to turn the flat line into an upward slope, so there is always an incentive to work.

    That’s all it’s trying to do. Whether you call it income, welfare, or a negative tax makes no difference to the end result. The idea is to reduce the distorting “poverty trap” effect of the flat line (or in some practical cases, lines that actually drop when you start work!) and allow the market to allocate resources based on the actual costs and benefits of work done below the threshold. A horizontal line means the market is blind to the work done. The straighter the line, the closer the slope is to the blue line, the better the market tracks the actual costs and benefits. The economic free market ideal, of course, is no taxes, no benefits, just the blue line.

    “It does have the terrible flaw of creating the impression that there is a ‘magic money tree’ or some ‘right’ to income without effort, which is pretty much the working understanding of some.”

    That’s because it’s an unemployment benefit. That’s what unemployment benefit does.

    “If we all claim it and try to live on it, and no one does any work, everything will collapse, it fails to pass the reductio ad absurdam test.”

    That’s because it’s an unemployment benefit. All redistributive welfare systems have the same feature.

    So if you’re saying “We shouldn’t have a welfare system, because if everyone stopped working and claimed it, the system would collapse” that’s fine. But if you’re saying “We shouldn’t move from our current welfare system to UBI, because if everyone stopped working and claimed it, the system would collapse” then the argument is nonsense, because the same is true of the current welfare system. We’re already there, in the scenario you’re saying we must avoid.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    “We’re already there, in the scenario you’re saying we must avoid.”

    And — we can’t afford the current welfare system. We are not paying for it — we are borrowing the money with no ability ever to pay it back (i.e., stealing from the lenders), or we are printing the money (which is effectively stealing from everyone).

    There is nothing noble about a welfare system built on theft.

  • neonsnake

    And — we can’t afford the current welfare system.

    We can’t afford the current governments we have. But that’s not the same thing – there are plenty of savings to be made in unrelated areas (departments for arts and culture?? Oh, come on!)

    If done correctly, we’re not borrowing money we can’t pay back; we’re getting people who can work back into productive work, whilst not letting the most vulnerable slip through the cracks.

    There is nothing noble about a welfare system built on theft.

    Sure, but that’s not feasible. Might be different in the US, but our current Conservative Prime Minister stood in front of a bus promising to spend more money on the NHS. Welfare is so baked into the culture now that trying to eradicate it entirely is a lost cause.

    Of all the things I’d like to spend less tax on, welfare is the last one, since it’s a guaranteed vote-loser, let alone the actual humanitarian effects of doing so.

    Practically, the best we can hope for is a better welfare system. UBI, BIG, Negative Income Tax are all better, and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Nullius:

    I can certainly sympathise with [requiring people to look for work to claim UBI]. But it’s difficult to test objectively (like, how hard are you looking? If you go to job interviews in a clown suit, does that count? And if the job centre finds you an opening in the local brothel, say, do you have to take it?), and it doesn’t really apply to people like the severely disabled.

    I understand that, having claimed unemployment benefits myself for a couple of months in the UK … but that’s my entire point: the current system is no better than UPI with a looking-for-work requirement, and it is in some respects much worse.

    But apparently some people here are not interested in discussing incremental improvements to the current system: they are only interested in dismissing the most utopian forms of UPI.

  • Chester Draws

    This discussion, and particularly the idea of elections being an advanced sale on stolen goods, reminds me of a conclusion I have recently come to, namely that corruption is a necessary condition for democracy.

    You think that other political systems can come without corruption?

    Democracy is the least corrupt. Firstly the rulers change relatively frequently, so entrenched corruption is harder to install, and before then the opposition get to trumpet any corruption they can see. Compare our constant inspection of even petty corruption like moat clearing, compared to the country-looting of Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Marcos-era Philippines etc.

    Any form of oligarchy quickly turns into an old boys’ club. And that’s better than the rampant corruption of autocratic regimes.

    A few theocracies haven’t been too corrupt, due to their puritan nature. They’ve mostly been quite bloody in other respects.

  • bobby b

    “And — we can’t afford the current welfare system.”

    Depends on what you’re including under that umbrella. If you’re speaking of simple means-tested welfare – i.e., support for people who aren’t making it on their own – we don’t really spend all that much. It’s more of a problem with the principle of the thing than the actual dollars spent. We’re all outraged by the “welfare queen” concept, but it’s a myth that we spend lots of money on them.

    If you expand the umbrella to include items such as medicare and Social Security, it’s much bigger, but these systems only pay out to those people who have spent a good deal of time paying in to them. I watched for forty years as my contributions disappeared from my paychecks – 8% of gross when I was an employee, double contributions of 16% when I was self-employed – and those contributions were weighty enough so that, had I invested that money instead, I’d be doing much better than what SS pays out. So, I’d call those two programs more of an insurance scheme than a welfare scheme.

    You would need to further expand your definition to include corporate welfare – subsidies, farm payments, etc. – if you really wanted to encompass all “welfare” payments that our governments make, but I sense this discussion isn’t about such things.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    neonsnake: “If done correctly, we’re not borrowing money we can’t pay back …”

    I understand what you are saying — but in total, we are borrowing money we will never pay back. Some could argue that taxes cover the welfare system, it is the pension system that is the cause of the borrowing. Some night say that welfare & pensions are paid for, it is the NHS that is responsible for the theft-like borrowing. But those arguments are just ducking the central issue. To quote a wise man: “We can’t afford the current governments we have.”

    Until we deal with that central issue of the financial unsustainability of current governments, all we are doing is shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic. One of the tragedies in our future is that it is the very people who are least able to bear the burden who will get hurt worst in the inevitable implosion. Just look at what is happening in Venezuela (although the polite media does not like to cover this failure of Big Intrusive Government). The politically-connected are covered; the rich leave the country; it is the ordinary people who starve.

    The best welfare reform would be to cut government down to size and remove governmental barriers to job creation, so that people can support themselves through productive work.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “You think that other political systems can come without corruption?”

    It’s an interesting question. I have sometimes argued that corruption is both the temporary solution and symptom to a deeper problem, which is legal barriers to trade. Legislation provides a barrier to trade, blocking people doing some trade they want to do. Corruption allows one to pay an official to bypass the barrier. Corruption therefore allows freer trade, and so on the surface is a good thing. It negates the effect of the barrier, which is the thing that is really doing the damage. But incentives matter, and the fact they can charge to allow people to bypass obstructive regulations motivates the officials to invent ever more obstructive regulations blocking trade in order to gain that graft. The result is that third-world economies strangle themselves in red tape. Those rich enough either pay the bribe or employ expensive legal teams to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops. The poor are forced out of the legitimate economy and into the black market, which has limited access to capital and long-term long-range contracts. That’s why third-world countries are so poor, despite all the natural resources.

    Thus, you get rid of corruption by limiting the power of government to regulate trade. The same goes to some degree to the power to raise taxes on the rich, although in practice that’s probably dealt with more directly, by the rich moving to another tax jurisdiction if taxes get too high. So long as governments compete with one another for victims to leech on, none of them can go higher than the market equilibrium.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    bobby b: “If you’re speaking of simple means-tested welfare – i.e., support for people who aren’t making it on their own – we don’t really spend all that much.”

    With apologies to the Brits and other nationalities for wandering off on a US tangent, 2019 FedGov Mandatory Spending on means-tested programs & related items is expected to be $642 Billion. To put that in perspective, that sum is equivalent to about $2,000 for every man, woman, & child in the US — quite staggering, considering that only a small proportion of the population gets means-tested benefits.

    To put it into further perspective, that welfare spennding is about $1 out of every $8 FedGov expects to spend in 2019. To look at it another way, the $642 Billion for means-tested programs is 58% of the $1,101 Billion that FedGov expects to borrow this year. Every penny that we spend in welfare is borrowed, with no realistic plan for ever paying it back.

    As for the Social Security Ponzi scheme that you & I have been paying into — in 2019, working Americans will pay in $1,295 Billion in payroll taxes; other Americans will take out $2,199 Billion in Social Security, Medicare, & Medicaid payments — a deficit of $904 Billion which is only partly covered by income taxes; the rest is borrowed.

    My guess is that the US Federal Government is not so different from any other government. Governments are living on borrowed money … and on borrowed time. Not sustainable! UBI will not fix that problem.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Or for the tldr version:

    1. It will be corrupted by vested interests who want to maintain the status quo.

    2. It’s a welfare system, encouraging idleness, state-dependency, and political pressure to increase it.

    Both of which are just as true of all current welfare systems and proposals for same.

    Thus, to maintain the argument made here, the only policy we can logically advocate is to eliminate welfare altogether. But we’ve tried that, and it turned out that our proposal was an impractical and unachievable pipe-dream because it was opposed by vested interests who corrupted all attempts, and by people dependent on state welfare who applied political pressure to block it. Strange, eh?

    winner

  • So, I’d call those two programs more of an insurance scheme than a welfare scheme. (bobby b, August 19, 2019 at 9:20 pm)

    Don’t you mean a pyramid scheme (in US jargon, a Ponzi scheme)?

    One reason why Gavin Longmuir (with good reason) thinks we cannot afford the government we already have is because of the unfunded obligations of those schemes. (A very old comment of mine mentions this in a British context.) The payments are treated as current tax income, and the repayments are guaranteed (or ‘guaranteed’) almost exclusively on the assumption that future taxes will pay them.

    My understanding is it is the same in the US, plus many cities (disproportionately the Democrat-run ones, my right-leaning friends suggest) have huge unfunded obligations for state employee pensions.

  • neonsnake

    To quote a wise man: “We can’t afford the current governments we have.”

    Why, thank you very much 🙂

    I feel obligated to add – even if we could afford them; I’d still want them cut down in size further!

    I flippantly tossed out the example of Arts and Culture earlier. It’s not the best example, in as much as I suspect that the amount of funding is tiny (and I’ve an idea that it’s funded by the Lottery), but it’s an area that I have zero belief that the government should be involved in. Also, it’s an easy sell to everyone! You want a Corbyn-government promoting the joys of allotment-culture? Or, for people on “the other side”, you really want Jacob Rees-Mogg funding anything cultural? Of course not!

    😉

    Until we deal with that central issue of the financial unsustainability of current governments, all we are doing is shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic.

    I agree in most part, but I also believe that the two things can be fought for simultaneously. I would take the “win” (if it turns out to be such) of a “better” welfare system as a positive, even if we haven’t reduced net spending – and possibly even if we haven’t increased net revenues – as a step in the right direction, after many years of believing that we’re moving in the wrong direction.

    I totally agree that on it’s own, it doesn’t solve the bigger problem. But I’ll take “Look, you CAN simplify without the country going to the dogs! Now, let’s start looking at untangling the regulations that unfairly benefit large businesses, can we?” as a starting point.

    (I, obviously, fully agree with bobby b that corporate welfare should be part of any such discussion, and with you that government barriers to job creation are an enormous problem)

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Niall K.: “Don’t you mean a pyramid scheme (in US jargon, a Ponzi scheme)?”

    Just in case I have not mentioned it before, can I share the tale of the one time I got to speak to a US Congressman about Social Security. The Congressman, now unfortunately prematurely deceased, was one of the better ones — a bit more thoughtful & reasonable than most.

    Congressman objected to my characterization of US Social Security as a Ponzi scheme. He understood that current payments into the system by active workers were immediately paid out to other people, and there was no meaningful financial reserve — no Al Gore “Lockbox”. However, it was not a Ponzi scheme because the economy was growing. Certainly, in future the ratio of people paying in to people taking out would decline, but because the people paying in would be earning more & making larger contributions, the system would continue to be able to operate as a transfer program.

    Fair enough. But since the 1970s, the same Congresscritters that oversee the Social Security system have piled law upon law to inhibit the growth of the US economy. Oh! Cutting US economic growth may not have been their stated objective, but regulations which inhibited logging, mining, construction of factories, etc had that effect, as did arcane tax regulations and unbalanced trade policies which practically encouraged US businesses to move production overseas (along with their associated jobs & tax revenues).

    The result today is that Social Security is indeed a Ponzi scheme in which the people who are now paying in will never get their money back. And the people who are lending money to the government to make up the shortfall between what the system pays out and what it takes in will never get their money back either. If ordinary people ran this scheme, it would be criminal. But the Political Class run it, so it is legal & sacred.

    However, the Gods of the Copybook Headings will have the last word. The only question is — When?

  • bobby b

    “Don’t you mean a pyramid scheme (in US jargon, a Ponzi scheme)?”

    Yes, actually, I do, insofar as every dollar paid in goes out in, like, six minutes.

    My point was that, if we’re discussing “welfare”, we ought to be reserving SS, Medicare, Worker’s Compensation, and Unemployment Insurance for a different discussion. “Welfare”, to me, is means-tested gifting without any prior contribution.

  • neonsnake

    However, the Gods of the Copybook Headings will have the last word.

    Complete aside: what does this mean? I’ve seen you and Niall use it. Is it anymore than that the old ways will eventually triumph over the new ways? (Presumably it’s from the Kipling poem)

  • neonsnake

    My point was that, if we’re discussing “welfare”, we ought to be reserving SS, Medicare, Worker’s Compensation, and Unemployment Insurance for a different discussion.

    That’s a very interesting viewpoint.

    Question – in the US, is it mandatory to have insurance for your car?

    And are all the programmes you mentioned also mandatory?

  • neonsnake (August 20, 2019 at 6:17 pm), it is certainly the Kipling poem that makes me aware of the Victorian custom of teaching handwriting by putting wise saws at the head of pages of otherwise blank books. Victorian boys and girls would write the saying over and over again down the page, thus practising their handwriting and – it was hoped – in the process learning moral wisdom about the value of honesty, of saving before spending and whatever else the old proverbs advised. Modern slogans like instapundit’s “That which can’t go on forever, won’t” are modern-language versions of these old sayings.

    The Gods of the Copybook Headings are the companions of the Nemesis that waits upon Hubris. As pride goeth before a fall, so, more generally, unpleasant consequences come after action that is disrespectful of them. Saying “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” is just a way of saying that you can ignore inevitable consequences, but those consequences will not ignore you.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    One verse from Kipling’s 1919 poem which seems relevant to this topic:

    In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
    By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
    But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

    Samizdatus Illuminatus began this thread with the statement: “UBI is a political cancer, and will kill us if it is not extirpated”.
    The sad story is that we (Western societies) already have advanced terminal political cancer. UBI would be more like getting a painful attack of gout on top of the cancer. But smile! The human race will continue after the coming brief interruption to service. 🙂

  • bobby b

    “Question – in the US, is it mandatory to have insurance for your car?”

    Liability insurance – yes. Can’t title a car without it, hefty fine if caught driving without. (More exactly, this is mostly state laws, and states may differ, but most are thus.)

    “And are all the programmes you mentioned also mandatory?”

    Yes. Social Security is a mandatory deduction from gross pay. Along with the Medicare deduction, it comes to about 8% of gross, with your employer paying another 8%. If you’re self-employed, you pick up the entire 16%. This is entirely separate from federal income tax, state income tax, local income tax . . .

    Unemployment insurance is straight-forward insurance coverage that the employer must purchase from their state. Price is based on the rating of your past experience (i.e., do you lay off lots of people and so end up generating lots of unemployed people? Then your premiums go way up.)

    Similarly, Workers Compensation insurance is insurance that must be purchased by employers from private insurers. Get an employee injured, and watch your rates skyrocket. (As they should.)

    We can have a separate discussion as to how solvent Social Security and Medicare are under government stewardship, but I don’t consider them to be “welfare” payments. They may have been priced wrongly, but they were still pay-to-play.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    “Question – in the US, is it mandatory to have insurance for your car?”

    Yes. Drivers licenses and auto insurance are State-level issues, so the details vary from State to State. Generally, insurance is required to cover damages done to other people and other vehicles; insurance for damages to your own vehicle itself is usually optional, unless there is an outstanding loan or lease.

    Interestingly, the other kind of vehicle insurance which is usually mandatory is “Uninsured Motorist Coverage”, because lots of people do not take out the mandatory insurance. In my State, about one person in three breaks the law by ignoring the requirement for insurance. (Who do these people think they are? Hillary Clinton?). So if an uninsured motorist causes an accident which involves you, your own insurance has to cover the damage. You can guess the kind of people who are over-represented in that uninsured one third of drivers. Consequently, because of Political Correctness, driving without insurance in practice usually carries no significant penalty for the people who ignore the requirement — despite the official hefty penalties.

    Cancer! We have advanced political cancer! Oops! Bobyy already answered

  • bobby b

    The sad story is that we (Western societies) already have advanced terminal political cancer.

    I still think you’re overly pessimistic. “That which can’t go on forever, won’t.”

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Bobby b: “We can have a separate discussion as to how solvent Social Security and Medicare are under government stewardship, but I don’t consider them to be “welfare” payments.”

    Without getting involved in an ‘Angels dancing on the head of a pin’ discussion about what constitutes welfare, it is hard to imagine how Universal Basic Income could be introduced without in some way merging it with the existing Social Security system. If UBI was done as a separate system, it would almost certainly have to be done in a way that was Not-Universal, Not-Basic. Consequently, it is fair to include under-funded unsustainable Social Security & Medicare in this discussion.

    We are in complete agreement that “That which can’t go on forever, won’t”. I am fairly optimistic that 1-2 generations after the collapse (20-40 years), the situation will be much better than today — rather like Japan & Germany after WWII. But it is tough to look at the facts and be optimistic about the nearer term.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . it is hard to imagine how Universal Basic Income could be introduced without in some way merging it with the existing Social Security system.”

    This entire thread is confusing to me. Is UBI a straight payment to everyone in the country? Or is it a means-tested way of paying the non-earning people enough to bring them up to some level?

    If it’s the latter, then, to me, it’s just warmed-over welfare payments, given in cash instead of rent credits and food stamps and Obama-phones.

    If it’s the former, then Social Security would not in any way be contra-indicated.

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby, “don’t feel like the Lone Ranger.” It feels confusing because it is. That’s because different people are trying to sort out what they themselves think. (Talking about issues is one of the most important ways of doing that.)

    Also, the people who tout UBI or BIG elsewhere, in weblogs and columns, are also arguing about who should be included or excluded and on what basis. Nothing is for certain even amongst them, and confusion abounds.

    .

    I suppose everybody has gotten the idea that I personally find any governmentally-mandated welfare system to be completely unacceptable based on its sheer immorality. (“Sheer immorality”: “Lipstick on a pig,” except that I hate the basic premise that makes the saying “work.”)

    SS (not a small number of &c’s!) and Medicare, ditto, and we won’t talk about O’Care, are more difficult. Our money and our employers’ (which, make no mistake, has a negative effect on the finances of all of us) was indeed taken from us at gunpoint (extorted) and was supposed to be “there” for us under various circumstances, especially our old age. We are, therefore, morally owed it.

    On the other hand, the income of the people who are paying it today is being extorted likewise from them.

    Pages of discussion omitted.

    So even SS and Medicare are morally thorny at the least.

    . . .

    “You can’t get there from here,” as we Provincial Americans put it — more pithily than the Brits’ “I wouldn’t start from here,” IMO. *g*

    Maybe not, at least not for large countries which lack an uncommonly wise dictator to plan it out and wean the public off of expecting Big Brother to look after them, at least the hard-off of them, at least the really irremediably hard-off of them.

    But we still might be able to cut back at least some. I understand it was done during Billy-J.’s administration, though some give Clinton the credit and others say it goes to Newt Gingrich and what he managed to get the Republicans in Congress to do.

    If we could even get back to that it would be a start.

    . . .

    I repeat: People might notice that we got Here, from a state of There in which charity (real charity) existed and was by definition privately supplied. Some people, at any rate, claim that no more are known to have “fallen through the cracks” then than do now.

  • Julie near Chicago

    See, for instance, “Lessons in Liberty: The Dutch Republic, 1579-1750” at

    https://fee.org/articles/lessons-in-liberty-the-dutch-republic-1579-1750/

    Using DDG, ‘ almshouses site:fee.org ‘ and ‘ poorhouse site:mises.org ‘ both produce many results.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    @Gavin,

    rather like Japan & Germany after WWII.

    Nope for the US. Germany and Japan were relatively monolingual homogenous nations. That advantage is often understated and unrecognised because it is just so politically incorrect.

    The US is a demographic mess with squabbling tribes. When the current cold civil war turns kinetic, I expect to see a mass reshuffling of races and a consolidation of various states into true ethnic states. The US will turn into a messier, bigger version of the Balkans with even greater divide between Whites, Blacks, and Hispanic states, with constant simmering tensions between the failing/failed Black/Hispanic states contrasted against the more stable White ones.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Wobbly — you sound even more pessimistic than me! At least I am a long-term optimist. 🙂

    Yes, the post-war situation in Germany & Japan was different in important respects from what it will be in the US (and in the wider Western world, since we are all inter-dependent now) when the music stops. My point was rather that we have historical examples of going from utterly bombed-out prostrate messes to thriving state-of-the-art economies in about 40 years. There is also the example of China going from Mao’s utter chaos to the high-tech Workshop of the World in about 40 years. Even the Israelites had to spend 40 years in the wilderness before getting to the Promised Land — there may be something in this 2 generations rule to go from rock bottom to standing tall. Maybe I am being too optimistic — since Germany, Japan, and China all benefitted from the generosity of the US. But at least history can give us some grounds for optimism.

    There are too many variables to allow any useful prediction about what happens to the US when government can no longer pay its bills. Because we live in such an inter-dependent world, in which most of us no longer know how to pluck a chicken or slaughter a cow, there will likely be a massive die-off when the water & electricity go out — unproductive dependent people will exit stage left instead of hanging around to create failed states. My guess is that the survivors will more likely be united by culture & attitudes rather than by ethnicity. But then, I am a long-term optimist!

  • neonsnake

    bobby, “don’t feel like the Lone Ranger.” It feels confusing because it is. That’s because different people are trying to sort out what they themselves think.

    Definitely. I’ve been a bit cagey/vague/incoherent about my support for “UBI, NIT, BIG or something” for a couple of reasons:

    1) I’m not convinced that anyone knows exactly what they are. I don’t know if UBI is the same as NIT (either literally or practically). I’ve seen UBI defined as (eg) let’s give £12k to literally everybody. I’ve seen it defined as let’s give everybody an amount which makes their income up to £12k. I’ve seen it defined as negative income tax.

    I’m not 100% sure what my preferred option is. Instinctively, I fall on the side of “let’s make everyone’s income up to £12k. If they earn £7k, let’s give them £5k. If they earn £60k, they get nothing” because that just feels right. But that’s means-testing, after a fashion, which contradicts something I said earlier.

    I’m not absolutely sure what I actually think is the best way of executing “it”, nor am I 100% sure what “it” is!

    So I’m definitely trying to sort out my own feelings on it.

    2) There’s also the point that, no matter where I end up, I’m advocating for redistribution, from the rich, to the poor. On a libertarian blog. I can’t ignore that, or attempt to cover it up.

    I can’t square that circle, either to the readers here, or honestly, to myself. The best I can do is this:

    Way upthread, Julie says this:

    If George swears he’s going to fix everybody’s roof or broken shoulder or inability to read, a very large swath of humanity will go, Fine, let George do it.

    …positioning it as an “if”, and a “will” – future tense, right? I think (in the UK, at least, and I touched on why I believe so earlier with my comment about Boris Johnson promising to spend more money on the NHS) that we’re already there, and are so far down that route, that we can only climb back out of it in small incremental steps, one of which is a simpler welfare system that isn’t as complicated, expensive and broken as our current one.

    If someone gave me a magic wand which allowed me to erase the welfare system tomorrow – but, crucially, allowed me to fix nothing else – then I wouldn’t do it. Whilst I understand that we survived in previous centuries with charitable organisations and alms-houses, I just can’t imagine that those institutions would immediately appear again, and that all the people who rely on welfare now will be amply looked-after; I think the truly vulnerable will simply starve, and I’m just not prepared to make arguments in favour of that.

    Over time, maybe charitable organisations will be capable of fulfilling that niche, but I wouldn’t be prepared, in the hypothetical magic wand situation, to take that risk with people’s lives. I do note the point that we ended up “here” from the “there” of a couple of centuries ago, but the risk feels enormous. It’s much more difficult to extract yourself from something than to have never been there at all (sidenote: hence my status as a “nervous” Leaver, not a full-throated supporter)

    So for now, I have to try to work through my thoughts on this “better” system, whatever it ends up being, and live with the fact that some of what I say is arguably in favour of redistribution from the rich to the poor.

    I will say: I’ve personally found this to be a very interesting and useful thread, with lots of good debate and varying points of view. For such a contentious subject, I think it says a lot that while people have put forward “arguments”, there’s been very little in the way of outright “arguing”, if that makes sense.

  • neonsnake

    Ah, goddamn it. There’s already an obvious error in my post above:

    If they earn £7k, let’s give them £5k.

    Why bother with earning the £7k??

    You can see, I think, why it’s not as simple a proposition as made out, and why I’m uncertain about voicing whole hearted support!

  • Nullius in Verba

    “This entire thread is confusing to me. Is UBI a straight payment to everyone in the country? Or is it a means-tested way of paying the non-earning people enough to bring them up to some level?”

    The former way of putting it is slightly more accurate, but the latter is not totally wrong. Look at the diagram in my comment upthread. As I say there, it makes no difference whether you call it income, welfare, or tax. What matters is that the line should always go up, so there is always an incentive to work. It should not be flat. It should definitely not go down.

    You can take any profile of take-home versus earnings (the graph in the diagram), subtract off the minimum, call that bit a “basic income”, and then call the difference between what’s left and the blue line “tax”. If you look at it like that, everything is a UBI (strictly, if the minimum is greater than zero), including what we’ve got now. Or you can call the whole difference “tax”, including the bit where it goes above the blue line, and then that’s “negative income tax”. Or you can call it welfare. It’s all the same, because it has the same net effect.

    “There’s also the point that, no matter where I end up, I’m advocating for redistribution, from the rich, to the poor. On a libertarian blog. I can’t ignore that, or attempt to cover it up.”

    There’s no need to advocate for it – all that knowledgeable libertarians say about it is that it is better, not that it is good. If the line always goes up, it prevents people getting trapped in unemployment by an effective 100% tax rate, and it distorts labour markets less. The idea is to encourage fewer people to need it, but it’s never going to be zero. And if you want to make certain the poor don’t starve, or turn to crime to survive, the money to do so has to come from somewhere.

    Personally, I would think the right answer is some variety of privately-run insurance. We can insure ourselves against the disasters of fire, flood, earthquake, car crashes, and ill health. Why not unemployment? Insurance redistributes too, from the many to the few, but you can choose to decide how much protection to buy based on what it costs to provide – high premiums or low ones. No more lobbying Parliament for more welfare – if you want more, you can go for the ‘de luxe’ policy with the higher premiums, and get a bigger pension or unemployment pay-out. Parents can buy it for their children, and build up a safety net. We could even call it ‘National Insurance’, or something like that. 🙂

  • neonsnake

    Insurance redistributes too, from the many to the few, but you can choose to decide how much protection to buy based on what it costs to provide

    Agreed, and it has the advantages of being transparent, and of being largely voluntary. That’s why I found bobby b’s comments re. insurance interesting.

    Even in cases like car insurance – well, it’s voluntary in that I choose to drive a car, so I see it as part and parcel of that decision.

    Where I struggle is the people who genuinely can’t afford insurance – easy example of the severely disabled.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    neonsnake: “So for now, I have to try to work through my thoughts on this “better” system …”

    Thanks for being so open about your personal struggle with this issue. Probably most of the rest of the human race struggles with the same topic. None of us want to see our fellow human beings suffer, but at the same time we recognize there are limits to what we can do, and it is so easy for a positive hand-up to become a moral hazard counter-productive hand-out.

    One thought is that welfare should not be handled by a remote government with a plethora of conflicting programs and a set of complex rule books that no-one truly understands. Welfare should be done locally, preferably face-to-face, with a lot of human judgement involved — i.e., essentially what was done when religious organizations and fraternal organizations took care of their members. Every person’s situation is unique, and should be addressed by caring people who understand the person, the problem, and the immediate environment.

    Just for grins, in the US there are about 138 Million taxpayers, and FedGov spends about $642 Billion annually on means-tested & related programs — over $4,600 from each taxpayer on average. If FedGov stopped taking that cash from the productive, we would have lots of money to support local programs. (Of course, that would do nothing to help with FedGov’s over-spending addiction, but that is another issue).

    How to get There from Here? I don’t know.

  • bobby b

    “Welfare should be done locally, preferably face-to-face, with a lot of human judgement involved — i.e., essentially what was done when religious organizations and fraternal organizations took care of their members.”

    This worked well in a homogeneous society, but you do run the risk of Othering those who are unlike the people exercising the human judgment of which you speak.

    In a lily-white community, do you think the poor black single mom gets the same concern as the white one? In a Muslim community, does the needy Christian family drive the same level of helpfulness and charity as the needy Muslim family?

    Western society has spent the last fifty years trying to get rid of choices based on personal judgment, on the theory that that’s where institutional discrimination is born. Thus, we get sentencing guidelines that keep the judge from sentencing the black guy longer than the white guy for drug crimes – by taking away the judge’s personal judgment.

    Our system of Entitlements is also premised on removing personal judgment from the grantors of benefits. If you can check all the right boxes, you are Entitled to certain benefits from society, and no one can deny them to you by saying “I just don’t like him.” Personal charity, on the other hand, is greatly dependent on the receiver being pleasing to the giver. So, we remove personal charity so as to avoid discrimination – because too many people “just don’t like” people of other groups, races, religions, etc.

    Sad to say, I think this all points out the benefits of a world in which we live in walled-off homogeneous enclaves. These seem able to become “Trust Societies”, while heterogeneity itself seems to kill off that trust. But that hardly seems practical anymore.

  • neonsnake

    Thanks for being so open about your personal struggle with this issue.

    I very much appreciate that statement.

    I’m not consistent (I’m only human), but I’m here to learn. If I can influence or change some minds on certain issues, then great, but that’s not my primary purpose in posting here.

    I’m old enough not to be embarrassed to say that; I hope I’m never “too old” to learn something new.

    One thought is that welfare should not be handled by a remote government with a plethora of conflicting programs and a set of complex rule books that no-one truly understands.

    Agreed. I don’t pretend to understand our own system in the UK. It’s designed (?) to be impenetrable, and demonises the poor.

    Interestingly, it was Labour that led the demonisation of the poor, over here in our green and pleasant land.

    I have no time for the idea of the “undeserving welfare recipient”. Whilst there are undoubtedly people who game the system, my entire life experience suggests that those numbers are very small, so I comfortably ignore it.

    I strongly suspect the idea of demonisation of the poor is a distraction tactic, to stop us realising that the real problem, as you rightly pointed out earlier, is regulations and crony capitalism.

    I think there’s a couple of aspects – throw the rulebooks out and make a standard payment (however that ends up looking). Those rules do nothing but make it more difficult for the deserving!

    But then there’s the local aspect you speak of – how do we encourage, without coercion, a culture where people help their fellows when they’re in need?

    I can state that giving money to a charity isn’t enough, Vs giving of your time – cooking a meal, or even teaching how to cook a meal – but I have no moral right to insist on that. And rightly, someone could say that I’m defining the terms of giving, which isn’t right either, unless I’m very clear on what the receiver wants.

    Tricky!

  • neonsnake

    Our system of Entitlements is also premised on removing personal judgment from the grantors of benefits.

    That’s my utopia, in terms of government welfare. “No discrimination”. All or nothing (including our old friend Mary the Crack Whore).

    I can’t see a better, fairer way.

  • bobby b (August 21, 2019 at 8:06 pm), the question is not whether the local community might be prejudiced but whether the remote group handing out the money instead would not be at least as prejudiced while also being far more ignorant of specific circumstances. A bunch of virtue-signalling bureaucrats, eagerly patronising and ‘protecting’ some individual the local community dislikes for a reason, precisely to show how ‘unprejudiced’ wise superior bureaucrats are, can be a disgustingly-bigoted bunch of evil-doers positively relishing the misery inflicted on the deplorable locals by the entitled jerk. (Some examples are in Thomas Sowell’s, “The Vision of the Anointed”.)

    There are downsides to every proposal. We can discuss what would in theory have the lowest statistical likelihood of negative effects. What we decide will depend on how we see our fellow human beings. Are local communities filled with prejudice against unjustly marginalised groups – or are they not so bad when compared with distant ignorant elites eager to virtue signal against people they despise on behalf of people they hardly know? We can only make a guess, based on our life experience and judgement, of where it is on average least dangerous to vest the power, and then hope for the best.

    +1 to neonsnake’s remark that one should never be too old to learn. It is doubtless also wise to remember the nun’s prayer: “With my great store of wisdom, it seems a shame not to use it all – but thou knowest, Lord, I want a few friends at the end.” 🙂

  • bobby b

    ” . . . the question is not whether the local community might be prejudiced but whether the remote group handing out the money instead would not be at least as prejudiced while also being far more ignorant of specific circumstances.”

    Oh, I agree. That’s why it seems to me that the most workable solution would be to transform back into closed, homogeneous societies – trust societies – in which local charity would actually work. The entitlement system never truly abandons personal judgment – it just moves the locus of that judgment from the giver to the governor.

    Neal Stephenson, in his “The Diamond Age”, set up perhaps the most workable charitable solution in a non-trust society I’ve seen. Being set in the future, most anything could be assembled by 3D printer, out of basic constituent parts, including food. So, one could find such printers all over that would, for free, generate simple meals, snacks, clothing, blankets – anything needed for life. These were used by anyone in need.

    The essentials of life were guaranteed to all, but if you wanted cash or toys or non-essentials, it was up to you to go earn them. Beyond building the printers and piping in the base ingredients, there was no overhead – no administration to fund and employ and buy votes from. I liked it.

  • neonsnake

    I agree, bobby b.

    Niall, fairly, challenged me a few days ago on whether I’d contradicted myself with my views on private charity vs government charity.

    I’ve spent some time thinking about it, and I’ve concluded that I haven’t; but the challenge has forced me to clarify to myself my views.

    I believe that if government must be involved, and for now I conclude that it will be involved, then it must have the lightest touch. It must provide for all, with no allowance for judgement. There should be no “central planning” by the government, and this may mean an unconditional payout.

    In as much as I, a London-based cosmopolitan, cannot decide what a Glasgow-based person needs, nor a Minnesota-based person needs, neither is the government qualified to do so.
    So, if they must be involved, then it’s money that is spent howsoever the recipient chooses.

    Then, but, further, at a more local level, charity at a personal level can, indeed, be more personal. With people that I have genuine connections with, I’m free to make decisions. Do I give them money? Do I make them meals? Do I teach them to cook?

    If I have personal knowledge of the circumstances, those decisions are mine to take. If I don’t, then they’re not.

    I don’t feel that that’s a contradiction, but I’m grateful to this thread for helping me work through that.

    Couple of asides: Neal Stephenson is awesome. The Diamond Age, yes, but I recommend Cryptonomicon to anyone who hasn’t read it. I also recommend William Gibson and John Shirley for those so inclined.

    Second: a properly integrated “multicultural” society is just as capable as a homogeneous one. I’m lucky enough to live (during the week, at the tiny flat belonging to the Lady, her sister and the perras) in a properly integrated part of London that is like that, with a very diverse mix of people from all over the world.

    It’s a wonderful community, and in many ways better, more vibrant, and kinder than the suburban town my own house is in, just outside of London, in what would be considered a “nicer” area by many.

  • bobby b

    “Second: a properly integrated “multicultural” society is just as capable as a homogeneous one.”

    Here’s the funny thing: “multicultural” in no way contradicts “homogeneous.” At least, not the “homogeneous” that I mean.

    Some multicultural societies knit together into one true community, in which everyone accepts the same premises and seeks the same goals. Consciously or not, they all become co-citizens. Early America followed this path, with immigrants from all over the world seeking to become true Americans.

    At the opposite end of the spectrum, sometimes newer arrivals seek to maintain a distance – a separation – from the society they enter. They try to keep their old identity. To them and their ilk, staying apart from their larger community becomes a goal.

    As an example, I look to the rather large Somali community here in Minnesota. They wall themselves off from America, and build their own Little Somalia. They remain hostile to their neighbors, and see them as enemies.

    Homogeneity can be just as much about social thought as race or origin – it comes from people seeking to join in more so than to just move in.

  • neonsnake

    At least, not the “homogeneous” that I mean.</blockquote

    Nor me. My "multicultural" is an exchange of ideas, not a clash of ideas. It's a loaded term, so I'm cautious about employing it, especially in these circles.

    do run the risk of Othering

    You use the word Othering, with the appropriate capitalising, as I see it. I should have picked it up earlier, bit didn’t.

    You describe as a conservative, and I do not.

    One of us, therefore is wrong, since we’re both saying the same things!

    (I’m being light hearted but very complimentary)

    If conservativism in the US means understanding the concept of Othering, then I will change my mind and happily describe to my US friends as conservative.

    Otherwise – are you sure you’re not one of my lot?

    😉

    *Grins*

  • bobby b

    “Otherwise – are you sure you’re not one of my lot?”

    But I am one of your lot.

    Liberty-centric.

    I’ve seen very few statements in your posts that would lead me to think you weren’t conservative at heart. “Conservative” has picked up a lot of baggage due to some of its fellow travelers. It’s hard to put up with some of the crap that some “conservatives” spout, but we always end up in a disparate coalition (if we want any societal power) and so we’re stuck with it until we change them.

    (Long ago, I fell in love with NS’s Baroque Cycle, and read the 3300-page collection several times, and then moved on to all of the rest of his work. Few authors can still entertain me in a third reading. He can.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby,

    “It’s hard to put up with some of the crap that some “conservatives” spout, but we always end up in a disparate coalition (if we want any societal power) and so we’re stuck with it until we change them.”

    Just so.

    Except that I’m not sure “we” are going to change “them.” Still, we can hope to persuade the more authoritarian ones to re-think somewhat, I suppose. But I daresay that “conservatives” will always differ among themselves on the various issues with which our society concerns itself. Hopefully this will mostly be not-entirely-dissonant harmony rather than the cacophonous caterwauling to which the leftish/progressive/SJW/so-called “Justice Democrats” are continuously treating us.

    .

    neon, from just above at 10:49 p.m.:

    conservativism

    Bless you, my son. Go forth with stout heart and teach the illiterates how to add the suffix “-ism” to an adjectival root. 😀 😎

  • neonsnake

    you weren’t conservative at heart.

    I’m likely small-c conservative as you in the US use the term in many senses; I’ve some associations in my head of traditional conservative and capital-C Conservative Party that prevent me from being wholly conservative, possibly because my journey towards libertarianism started from the left and I’ve drifted right as I got older.

    I’m very much not your Russell Kirk conservative, or Cornerstone Group Conservative, for instance.

    It occurs to me that maybe we do need a Rectification of Names after all, Julie!

    progressive/SJW

    I want those words back. I really do.

    For who, after all, can truly be viewed as driving progress? Or as driving Social Justice (if one believes in the term, I know some don’t)?

    I hate that I have to issue a whole bunch of qualifiers every time I use words like that in a positive sense.

    Still gonna do it though…;)

    Go forth with stout heart

    Julie, if I get something right like that, that most people get wrong…it means you can assume I’m typing on my phone with auto-correct enabled
    😛

  • Aristotle asked whether aristocratic behaviour was the behaviour aristocrats like or the behaviour that will preserve an aristocracy. He never bothered to ask the same question of democratic behaviour, feeling sure it was the nature of democrats never to have the self-discipline needed for the second answer.

    I see it as very fundamental to the conservative virtues that they suggest we ask ourselves whether conservative behaviour is the behaviour conservatives like or the behaviour that will preserve conservatism – and give the latter answer. As Burke put it,

    “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its own conservation.”

    In a way that parallels Aristotle (though I don’t simply agree with him), I tend to feel less hopeful that today’s left will ask themselves this question, or answer it correctly. The virtues you most need for that are the ones they least value. (I will let others say whether there is some ‘Othering’ going on here. 🙂 )

    Neonsnake, I see your point that if state cannot be eliminated from charity then it may be best on balance that its discretion should be eliminated, whereas those far closer and less powerful might be allowed some. However I note that Adam Smith remarks:

    the interests of the great society of mankind would be best promoted by directing the principal attention of each to that particular portion of it which was most within the sphere both of his abilities and his understanding

    and on these grounds he defends the human tendency to be more charitable to countrymen than to strangers, to locals than the distant, just as Burke commends having sympathy for all but loving “our own little platoon” better than the mass. Notice here that (IIUC), far from sharing bobby b’s concern about local charity being influenced by prejudice, Smith and Burke (on balance only, with all the obvious acknowledgements) say local charity is the least error-prone (though, like all things human, still error-prone) way – not just better than a distant capricious agenda’d state but than a distant undiscriminating automatic state. Carried to that extreme, the point will obviously bear some debate – or at least, like you, I may need to think about it a bit longer.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    “…local charity is the least error-prone …”

    This brings to mind the group of ladies in a local Catholic church who provide scholarships to college-bound students. Entertaining ladies! They work hard to raise money for the scholarships — things like raffles in which the first prize is a rifle and the second prize is a handgun. And they work hard to direct those scholarships to do the most good. In most cases, they have known the students since they were children, and they know the family situations. Of course, some people ‘drop through the cracks’ and do not get scholarships — the teenage boy with a reputation for irresponsibility, the teenage girl who wants to go to a Party School to major in Lesbian Dance. But is that really such a bad thing?

    This is really welfare rather than charity, where people have to make a conscious decision to become part of the group and show a willingness to be a contributor as well as a recipient. Again, is that such a bad thing? Groups like the Amish and the Mormons who face significant discrimination from the usual suspects look after their own. That seems preferable to Far Left Democrats trying to extend taxpayer-provided government welfare benefits to illegal aliens who have never contributed to the system.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Of course, some people ‘drop through the cracks’ and do not get scholarships — the teenage boy with a reputation for irresponsibility, the teenage girl who wants to go to a Party School to major in Lesbian Dance. But is that really such a bad thing?”

    That depends on who is setting the rules; whether they are “one of us” or “one of them”.

    Suppose the local philanthropist is a radical Marxist who inherited his money, and grants scholarships to those who want to study environmentalism and Marxist Feminism, but the poor-but-talented conservative lad who wants to do maths and engineering somehow “slips through the cracks”?

    Suppose the traditionally-minded local philanthropists are dyed-in-the-wool sexists, and it’s your daughter who wants to do maths and engineering. She slips through the cracks too. But her sister who wants to become a beautician gets a scholarship easily.

    “Is that really such a bad thing?”, you say to her.

    It’s their money, of course, and so their decision. Although it’s not really ‘charity’ in the interests of the recipient, entirely, but more like ‘social engineering’ in the interests of the donor.

    Whether that’s a bad thing depends on whether you agree with the social politics of the donor. And when there are authoritarians who see it as perfectly reasonable for them to force society into conformity with their ways, it’s a powerful weapon to wield for some group to control who gets the education, the start-up funding, the rescue from poverty, the first rung of the ladder. Those who run the charities can make sure the resources go to those they consider “us” and not those they consider “them”. Great, if they count us “one of us”, bad if we’re “one of them”.

    So when it’s public money to which we’re all forced to contribute, irrespective of our politics, morals, or culture, then we are careful to make sure the largesse is dispensed impartially, irrespective of politics, morals, or culture. Because we’re all socially disapproved minorities in some respect. Too many people plan society assuming that their group is always going to be the one in charge.

    In short, we value impartiality because of the danger of the authoritarians getting their hands on such a powerful tool of social control.

    “That seems preferable to Far Left Democrats trying to extend taxpayer-provided government welfare benefits to illegal aliens who have never contributed to the system.”

    Should the same principle apply to native citizens who also have never contributed to the system?

    And maybe I’ve misunderstood the American system, but I thought illegal aliens paid taxes?

  • Gavin Longmuir

    NIV: “…we value impartiality because of the danger of the authoritarians getting their hands on such a powerful tool of social control.”

    Out here in the real world, the authoritarians already do have their hands on this and many other powerful tools of social control through their dominance of government. Think about the little girls who get slapped with fines for having an unauthorized lemonade stand in their front yards.

    The great value of private institutions is that there can be many of them. If the Catholic charity won’t help, how about the Daughters of the American Revolution or the Young Farmers of America? With government, there is only one place to go — and if the bureaucrats there don’t like you, you are scrod.

    If “the poor-but-talented conservative lad who wants to do maths and engineering” slips through the cracks with the local Catholic charity, he can always sign up for a few years in the military for the unparalleled educational benefits it offers its veterans. A healthy society should have many different paths for individuals to follow; a government bureaucracy — not so much.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Gavin: Expect a few extra boxes of fine chocolates in your stocking come Christmas.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The great value of private institutions is that there can be many of them. If the Catholic charity won’t help, how about the Daughters of the American Revolution or the Young Farmers of America?”

    Sure. We achieve our valued impartiality by means of having many institutions. Somewhere, the boy with the irresponsible reputation and the lesbian dancer *can* avoid falling through the cracks. We value impartiality – it’s one of the reasons we like freedom, because it provides it. It provides a safeguard against charity-givers imposing their opinions on others by their control over who gets a chance and who doesn’t.

    Would blocking lesbian dancers from getting scholarships because of the political/moral judgements of the society they live in really be such a bad thing? Just as much as blocking conservatives from getting scholarships would be. (Which is not to say it should be forbidden, but that a decent and liberal society should voluntarily choose not to do it.)

    “Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own.”

    “If “the poor-but-talented conservative lad who wants to do maths and engineering” slips through the cracks with the local Catholic charity, he can always sign up for a few years in the military for the unparalleled educational benefits it offers its veterans.”

    🙂 The military have in the past been more picky than most about who they let in!

  • Gavin Longmuir

    NIV: “Would blocking lesbian dancers from getting scholarships because of the political/moral judgements of the society they live in really be such a bad thing?”

    It seems like we are failing to communicate here, NIV. If a lesbian dancer was seeking a scholarship to study Civil Engineering, I would be quite happy to contribute. If a devout Baptist was seeking a scholarship to study Lesbian Dance, she would have to look elsewhere.

    One of the most insidious damages that the usual suspects have done to otherwise sensible people is to make them feel guilty about using common sense — the Extreme Lefties want you to castrate yourself by being impartial and non-judgmental. The only people who can afford to be non-judgmental are those who are protected from the consequences of their foolishness by taxpayers’ money or by hard men carrying guns.

    A question: you are walking down a deserted city street late at night. Two guys turn a corner in front of you and start walking towards you. Are you going to make an instant judgment about the nature & intent of those two people? The truth is we are all judgmental, and rightfully so. Sadly, some of us have allowed ourselves to be whipped into fearful silence.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them . . . “

    Our proscriptions against murder and rape and theft are simply our society’s “own ideas and practices as rules of conduct” that we choose to impose on all.

    So, we’re still left with the problem of deciding which “ideas and practices as rules of conduct” deserve enforcement and which we would now like to discard.

    (I agree with the point you’re making – but it’s not so simple as “let’s stop forcing our social mores on others.” We still need to decide which mores we want to keep – I assume we still like the anti-murder one – and so we must similarly decide on which side of the fence the “lesbian dancer” example falls. Which leaves us exactly where we were before.)

  • Nullius in Verba

    “It seems like we are failing to communicate here, NIV.”

    Yes, I’d say so.

    “If a lesbian dancer was seeking a scholarship to study Civil Engineering, I would be quite happy to contribute. If a devout Baptist was seeking a scholarship to study Lesbian Dance, she would have to look elsewhere.”

    Right, but “look elsewhere” is different from what you said earlier, which was that some people “‘fall through the cracks’ and do not get scholarships”. You seemed to be suggesting that youngsters seeking to study subjects we didn’t agree with politically would not be able to get scholarships, and this was not such a bad thing.

    From the point of view of promoting our own politics and way of life, it isn’t. From the point of view of living in a society where people are free to live as they choose, where society does not try to “fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways”, it’s rather more questionable. To paraphrase Voltaire, I may detest what you study, but I would defend to the death your right to study it. If that’s what’s right for the girl, making her do civil engineering degree instead would likely result in a very bad outcome for her.

    If your position is that they should all be able to get their scholarships from different donors, I’ve got no problem with that. If your position is that some people should not be able to get charitable scholarships in circumstances we disagree with politically or morally, which is how I interpreted your original statement, I would at least question it. It’s morally the same as people of our political and cultural background not being able to get scholarships, unless we are careful to always hide our opinions. Anything that tends to enforce conformity with social norms where it’s not directed at preventing harm (and I’ve not heard that lesbian dance is harmful) is bad for society.

    “One of the most insidious damages that the usual suspects have done to otherwise sensible people is to make them feel guilty about using common sense — the Extreme Lefties want you to castrate yourself by being impartial and non-judgmental.”

    On the contrary, they are very judgemental and far from impartial! But they’re enforcing a different set of norms. Instead of women finding it hard, it’s men. Instead of homosexuals finding it hard, it’s homophobes. Instead of atheists finding it hard, it’s Christians. Instead of Communists being chased out of their jobs by Joe McCarthy, it’s conservatives. The rules are new. But the methods they’re using are not – this is all just the same old machinery that in the past was deployed against the old minorities, now being deployed against the former and now deposed ruling class.

    And you can’t say it’s OK when we do it but not when they do it, because what we are doing is just plain common sense, because that’s exactly what they say, too. If the argument works for us, it would work for them too.

    If you want to be free to choose your own life, even when others disagree, you have to let others follow their own path and make their own mistakes, even when you disagree. We want them to stop judging us. So we have to stop judging them. This is *not* the message the lefties are sending out – what they’re saying is that only their judgements are valid. And I’m saying you can’t beat that message by saying the same thing yourself.

    “A question: you are walking down a deserted city street late at night. Two guys turn a corner in front of you and start walking towards you. Are you going to make an instant judgment about the nature & intent of those two people?”

    Obviously it depends what street you’re walking down, but generally I assume they’re doing the same things I am. Going home. Going late-night shopping. I used to see a fair number out walking the dog, or jogging while it’s quiet and cool. But the most common was going home after a night out, or a long train trip. I see lots of people out at night.

    But I know what you mean. I’ve been out walking the streets at night, turned a corner, and realised the girl walking alone in front of me keeps looking back over her shoulder at me. She’s made an instant judgement: – Male! RAPIST!! It’s kinda annoying. You have to stop and wait for her to get out of the way, or you’re liable to get pepper-sprayed or beaten up by her angry husband. But the Radical Feminists would tell us that all men are rapists and she’s only being sensible in making such snap judgements. Do you think they’re right?

    Assumptions, eh?

    “Sadly, some of us have allowed ourselves to be whipped into fearful silence.”

    Yes, that’s how the enforcement of social conformity works. That’s what happens when society judges. And I don’t approve of whipping lesbian dancers into fearful silence, either.

    “So, we’re still left with the problem of deciding which “ideas and practices as rules of conduct” deserve enforcement and which we would now like to discard.”

    Yes, of course. That’s precisely what the rest of Mill’s essay was all about.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    NIV: “I may detest what you study, but I would defend to the death your right to study it.”

    We are definitely failing to communicate here, NIV. You are willing to defend to the death the teenage girl’s right to go to a Party School and study something like Lesbian Dance which will likely leave her unable to earn an income. That is fine! You are willing to defend her choice. But that is not the issue. The issue is — Are YOU prepared to pay for it?

    If you are prepared to pay for it out of your own pocket, that is your choice. No-one can second guess you on that. If the girl’s aunt left her $300,000 in her will (approx. cost of attending a 4 year Lesbian Dance Studies program at a fairly typical college), and the girl wants to spend her money on that course of study, that is her choice and there are no objections.

    But if the teenage girl goes to Big Daddy Government and asks the Government to take the required money out of your pocket (with violence if necessary), then that is a very different situation. Would you defend to the death her “right” to take other people’s money?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “You are willing to defend to the death the teenage girl’s right to go to a Party School and study something like Lesbian Dance which will likely leave her unable to earn an income.”

    Dancing is a highly skilled profession at which one can definitely earn an income! Not usually a particularly high one (median about $34k, the top 10% up to $100k), because there are more people want to do it than there is demand for it, but not far below the average, either. But there’s more to life than money, and plenty of people do jobs because they love doing them more than for the pay. In the performing arts, getting work requires social connections, for which a Party school may be a better bet.

    And I bet there’s a market on the internet for ‘lesbian dance’, whatever that is! 😉

    “But that is not the issue. The issue is — Are YOU prepared to pay for it?”

    Maybe, if I sympathise enough with her. It’s her dream, not mine. The difference between charity and trade is that charity is for the benefit of the receiver alone, and trade is for mutual benefit. Am I giving this money for her benefit, or to further my own interests? My own pet project to engineer society the way I want it to be? We certainly all have the right to do the latter, but it’s not charity.

    However, that’s not the point. The issue is whether it is ‘good’ for society in practice to be able to impose it’s own norms on others. If the situation is that no norms are imposed because you can always find some charity willing to donate, it’s not an issue. But in the situation you originally described, where kids simply did not get scholarships if their community disapproved of their life choices, is that ‘good’? Again, I’m not disputing their right to do with their own money as they choose, but is it a case of people having the freedom to do things that are morally wrong from a libertarian point of view?

    “But if the teenage girl goes to Big Daddy Government and asks the Government to take the required money out of your pocket (with violence if necessary), then that is a very different situation. Would you defend to the death her “right” to take other people’s money?”

    Whether government has the right to take our money and spend it on things we don’t agree with is a completely separate issue to whether society (through government or privately) is doing the right thing by imposing society’s norms on its individual members through its choice of who to be charitable to.

    On the former point, I agree, and so do people from all corners of the political spectrum. Environmentalists don’t like their money being spent on fossil fuels and the products of strip mining and so on. Pacifists don’t like their money being spent on the military. Democrats don’t like it that their money is spent on enacting Donald Trump’s policies, or enforcing borders, or whatnot. We’re *all* in the situation of not liking a lot of the things our money is spent on. But we have an agreed system for deciding that, and if we don’t like it we can vote for somebody who will stop doing it. So far, we haven’t. But given that we all have to pay for stuff we don’t like, it’s particularly important that government spending is impartial. That way, even if you wind up paying for things they want and you don’t, at least they’ll have to pay for things you want and they don’t. It’s not good, but it’s fair(-ish).

    While I don’t defend anyone’s right to take other people’s money, I would point out that she is a taxpayer too, so it’s her money as well. You can’t take her money, but then insist it only gets spent on things you like. Fair’s fair.

    On the latter point, though, it makes no difference to the issue whether it’s done by government or privately, whether payment is forced or voluntary. Everyone has the right to do it, just as we all have the right to advocate for a totalitarian state (whether socialist, environmentalist, theocratic, or lunatic), and spend our own money trying to bring it about. But is it good?

    I should say, because I’m probably not giving that impression, that my disagreement with your position is very mild and my objections are not strong ones. I’m mainly still arguing to try to explain exactly what I mean. It’s a subtle point, I agree. But the issue is very far down the list on the scale of the world’s wrongs. 🙂

    (PS. And I’m also well aware of what ‘lesbian dance’ is! ‘Queer Studies’ is a specialist branch of history/anthropology, and probably more relevant to the modern world than Medieval Poets or the major Mesopotamian religions. Not to my taste, and probably infused with too much political activism, but in theory no worse than any other humanities degree. In most cases, the aim is to demonstrate an ability to research/study/analyse a subject – the subject studied is largely irrelevant to that.)

  • neonsnake

    Niall – you propose, backed up by Misters Smith and Burke, that:

    local charity is…not just better than a distant capricious agenda’d state but than a distant undiscriminating automatic state. Carried to that extreme, the point will obviously bear some debate – or at least, like you, I may need to think about it a bit longer

    and I’m going to make the assumption that this is because on a (very) local level, the giver can be more aware of what the receiver needs (which may be different from they want), and can “discriminate” accordingly in the receiver’s best interests? Is that a fair assumption?

    If so (and I’m very open to debate on this) – I think I agree. Set aside the moral point that if it’s my money, I should be free to choose what to do with it for now:

    Practically speaking, it seems evident that if someone has direct experience and involvement, then they’re able to make better choices than a distant government official. If there are two people needing charity – one local to you (A), and one local to me (B) – then it seems entirely likely that they might need different approaches.

    Two very simplistic examples:

    Person A might well just need enough money to pay the next round of bills, but is otherwise perfectly capable of looking after themselves, so you’d be entirely justified in helping them by choosing to pay their bills for them.

    Person B might well have enough money for now to pay the bills, but is spending a fortune on takeaways and ready-meals, in which case I’d be entirely justified in teaching them better budgeting skills, better shopping habits, and how to cook cheaply.

    A government Bureaucrat C will be ignorant of the individual circumstances, so would often get it wrong – this where I believe that if they cannot (or, more properly, will not) cease their involvement, then I don’t want choices being made – and a cash hand-out seems the only fair way. In Person B’s case, it might perpetuate their bad habits, but they could choose to spend it on cookery lessons, and that’s a choice I would say sits with Person B, not with Bureaucrat C.

    So, I think I agree – local decisions will generally be much better than far-off ones, so we should eliminate the power of discretion from far-off ones, if we can’t entirely eradicate the far-off ones.

    I would say, then, that a “distant undiscriminating automatic state” is better than a “distant capricious agenda’d state”, but “local charity” is likely to be better than both. By local charity here, I’m thinking family and friends.

    I can see an issue where you step up to capital-C “Charities” that have their own agendas. NIV and Gavin have been discussing this above, and it touches bobby b’s point. Charities might well be veering into “far-off” territory, and might well discriminate (unfairly, in my view) against the single black mother or the isolated Christian family, if they’re not “right type of people”, despite not knowing the individual circumstances.

    If there a plethora of diverse charities in existence, so that they can find one which will help them, then all well and good.

    If not, then I propose that the “distant undiscriminating automatic state” is currently a better option than nothing, for those people.

    (it also strikes me that most libertarians and free marketers would say that local decisions are generally better than far-off ones in an awful lot of circumstances, when we start to think about central-planning and other parallel ideas)

  • neonsnake

    But if the teenage girl goes to Big Daddy Government and asks the Government to take the required money out of your pocket (with violence if necessary), then that is a very different situation. Would you defend to the death her “right” to take other people’s money?

    NIV has said most of what I’d want to say, but I’d like to add a couple of bits.

    Another question to ask would be: NIV, are you happy that the government took the money I needed to do a Mathematics degree from your pocket? Because they did.

    And would it be different if I’d have chosen to study Sociology or Queer Studies, or, indeed, Christian Household Management for the Loving and Obedient Wife?

    And I’ve forgotten most of what I learned. I remember the words “Fermat’s Last Theorem”, but I’d need to google it to remind myself what it is or why it’s important.

    The most maths I have to in a given day is working out what my break-even point is if I reduce the price of a product by £20, and that’s a formula that people who failed GCSE maths learn fairly quickly. So my degree-learning was actually fairly useless, in that sense.

    What we’re veering into (and again, NIV has already made this point), is trying to work out what the world should look like – is it one where Civil Engineering and Mathematics are considered inherently more “worthy” than Christian Household Management for the Loving and Obedient Wife?

    I say no. I’ve changed the Degree Subject in question to a subject that I would have some objections to, I hope no-one minds 😉

    ..

    My “utopia”, if you like, is a world where people are free to choose different modes of living. Within those modes of living, we don’t hurt other people, nor do we take their stuff without permission. We don’t prevent people from choosing unusual modes of living.

    We might judge if we think they’re only doing it to be “cool”, or “rebellious”; but if they’re genuinely and honestly living their own life, or if they’re experimenting with an open mind, then I personally think we should approve, or at least strive to be neutral (the “well, it’s not my cup of tea, but they seem to be enjoying it and it’s not harming anyone” attitude).

    I believe that this should be enough – that we value liberty for it’s own sake, with no further justification needed.

    However, happily, there are further arguments in favour:

    Because people are freed both from societal mores, and government regulations preventing them from pursuing their happiness, I believe that we’ll see many more, but smaller, businesses, and that companies like Google and Facebook will no longer be the monoliths that they are currently.

    I believe that the overwhelming majority will still conform to a traditional, recognisable, mode of living – traditional heterosexual marriage, buy a house, go to work for someone else’s company, have a couple of kids.

    I also think we’ll see different types of businesses and modes of living that we can’t currently predict, because some bright young thing will identify a hitherto-unknown niche. Between these people, and the traditional people striving to improve existing systems and processes, I believe that we’ll see vast levels of progress. This progress will come about precisely because we allow and approve of diversity of thought and modes of living, without the government nor society imposing and restricting people’s freedoms to come up with their own ideas.

    Because people are living different modes of life, feeling free to do so, some will work in traditional white-collar or blue-collar jobs. Others will work in areas like the arts, where they may or may not earn a very good wage, but will be doing jobs “because they love doing them more than for the pay” (so there will be wage inequality, and this is, to me, a feature, not a bug, since we don’t judge people by their earnings or material possessions, but by whether they are pursuing their own happiness – with the caveat that the aforementioned “progress” will continue to chip away at poverty, not inequality)

    So, aside from the idea that liberty is good in itself, I also believe that progress follows naturally from it.

    But – in order to be consistent, we have to accept forms of liberty that are not our cup of tea. The freedom to study Lesbian Dance; because who knows? Maybe someone will come up with a concept that somehow eradicates sexism/homophobia (or, if you want to look at it from a different direction, that somehow eradicates the victim-card-playing).

    We have to accept that some people want to study, and live a life consistent with, Christian Household Management for the Loving and Obedient Wife. Because who knows? Maybe there’s something in it, that I can’t currently see, that might improve my life drastically if only I allowed them to study and live like it, and wasn’t such a terribly disapproving authoritarian about a lifestyle that harms no-one and doesn’t infringe on my own.

    I believe that with that acceptance, that charity will naturally spring up – if we approve of, and actively want, people to be pursuing their own lives, then I think we will naturally help them if we see them start to go underwater through no fault of their own. If we disapprove of their choices, then we’re less likely to help.

    There you go – there’s my vague and messy manifesto!

    Whilst that seems separate from the original question – who pays? – it’s tied in with it if we’re going to start making judgements on what will be paid for.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “(it also strikes me that most libertarians and free marketers would say that local decisions are generally better than far-off ones in an awful lot of circumstances, when we start to think about central-planning and other parallel ideas)”

    Free marketeers would say that you implement long-range decisions locally using the mechanism of prices. You make the local decision based on local prices, but local prices are determined by the global balance of supply and demand, combined with the costs of transport of goods and information from one locality to another.

    The Peruvian economist Hernando DeSoto argued (in his book ‘The Mystery of Capital‘) that the reason the third world was so poor was that most of them were restricted to purely local decision-making in the black markets, by being locked out of the long-range legal markets by rampant bureaucracy and corruption. Poor people could only safely trade with people they knew, where they knew their reputation, their resources, where they lived. You can’t get a better price in a distant land because you had no way of identifying who was trustworthy, and no way of enforcing contracts over such a distance. The result is horribly inefficient. Purely local decisionmaking is arguably better than central planning (as the resulting famines and shortages tend to be purely local, too), but is still pretty horrible.

    The reason our economy works is that prices act as a distributed machine for making long-range decisions, allowing long-range trade with anonymous/unknown partners. You don’t need to know that Mr Wei Chen’s factory in a distant land has lots of excess widgets for sale, you just need to know that the market price in China has dropped. The Chinese locals use local knowledge of Mr Wei to set the price of supply in China, you use your local knowledge where you are to determine demand, and the prices do the long-range balancing act.

    So the art of designing an economy is to make sure prices locally accurately reflect supply and demand globally. Goods and services must have a financial cost, productive work must have a financial benefit, price differences must incentivise people making behavioural changes to balance them. If you set the price of work to infinity – which is in effect what the flat line segment of the welfare curve does – then the maket will ensure that type of work doesn’t get done, even though it should make economic sense to do it. Those people will remain permanently unemployed. That productive capacity will be permanently lost. Global planning is done through prices, so if there is no valid price set, it is invisible to the planning system and either doesn’t get used at all or gets grossly over-used (which is the problem in the Tragedy of the Commons). That’s what UBI is trying to fix.

    Imagine a mountain lake. Rivers flow in. Rivers flow out. The lake bed rises and falls randomly. You are asked to calculate the precise depth of water to put at each spot of the lake, and the precise direction and speed of flow at each spot of the lake, to line up the top of the water column precisely across the entire lake’s surface. You can’t do it locally – at any given spot you don’t know what the conditions are elsewhere in the lake. You can’t do it centrally – you would have to gather the information from billions of locations and do huge amounts of adding and subtracting to figure out even an approximate answer, which would rapidly go out of date. But nature does this truly miraculous feat anyway, using water pressure. The local conditions determine the pressure at a point, which pushes the water in precisely the required directions to equalise the level with mirror-like perfection, and does so across the entire lake, simultaneously, and with no guiding intelligence required. God does not do the calculation centrally and then order billions of frenzied angels to constantly push around water molecules to his direction to achieve this mirror perfection. He sets it up so the water molecules do it on their own, each using only their local knowledge, and he can just sit back and enjoy the view.

    (I mean, have you ever looked at the reflection of the sun setting over a mountain lake, and thought about how incredibly, incredibly unlikely that is to happen by chance, just by water molecules pushing against one another at random? The numbers are staggering.)

    Local knowledge feeding in to prices, and the market balancing prices globally is the way to do it.

  • neonsnake

    The Chinese locals use local knowledge of Mr Wei to set the price of supply in China, you use your local knowledge where you are to determine demand, and the prices do the long-range balancing act.

    Oh, thoroughly agree. Local knowledge based on what I know, and a faith in the supply chain being not interfered with. Maybe it might help to know why Mr Wei has an excess, so that next time I can be first in through the door with a decent offer, to trump the competition, but aside from that, yes. I focus on what I know, and what I can know, and let others worry about what they know, or can know, and I act accordingly.

    (I mean, have you ever looked at the reflection of the sun setting over a mountain lake, and thought about how incredibly, incredibly unlikely that is to happen by chance, just by water molecules pushing against one another at random? The numbers are staggering.)

    Often 🙂

    And I conclude that something has to happen, and we happen to find that particular balance of elements beautiful. Add in some wind, and the choppiness destroys the mirror, and we lose the appealing symmetrical effect that for some reason we appear to be pre-programmed to find attractive. Subtract wind, add in some airborne moisture in the right place, stand with the sun behind you and the lake in front of you, and you have even more beauty.

    But if you’ve ever deliberately planned to photograph a rainbow reflected in a lake, I suspect you know how staggering those numbers are 🙂

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Neonsnake — It seems we are wandering off into delightful esoterica again. No problem with that! But first let’s peel back some of the layers on the welfare onion.

    I guess we are all in agreement there is no problem with anyone deciding to spend his own money or his own time helping anyone else do anything (as long as doing this does not interfere with third parties). The issue about UBI or any other form of government forced redistribution is that it is forced, even if the bureaucrats call it welfare and tug on our heartstrings about the unfortunate people we are supposedly helping whether we want to or not. The underlying issue is that some humans are being forced by the credible threat of violence to work for nothing (a form of temporary slavery) while other humans take the products of that labor without compensation (i.e., what were formerly known as slave owners).

    NIV upthread rather idealistically said: “But we have an agreed system for deciding that, and if we don’t like it we can vote for somebody who will stop doing it.” As if casting a vote once every five years for a Tory Tweedledee or a Labour Tweedledum made any significant difference when they are both lying through their teeth and making promises they have no intent of ever fulfilling!

    As we peel back the onion, the issue with this forced labor is really a problem with the limitations of universal suffrage democracy. Fixing welfare requires first fixing today’s problem of the Tyranny of the Minority. It is a long time since the UK has had a government which actually had the affirmative votes of at least 50% of the citizens — and the UK is quite typical in that regard. But even if a true majority voted for something which required 100% of the citizens to comply, would that not still be an infringement on those who are not in the majority?

    Perhaps part of the answer would be something with characteristics of the Swiss Canton system or the early United States — if you don’t like what your government is doing, you can vote with your feet and move someplace more to your liking. Some might argue we are already seeing this in the US, with Authoritarians congregating in the cities and the less authoritarian migrating to the exurbs and rural areas. That does come back to Bobby b’s point about creating more homogeneous societies, within which there is little disagreement about major issues.

  • neonsnake

    It seems we are wandering off into delightful esoterica again.

    I guess.

    I suppose, I’ve not said anything too esoteric, but maybe I have.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    neonsnake — If my lame attempt at light-heartedness has given offence, I apologize humbly & sincerely.

  • neonsnake

    Oh, hey, not offended; just quite confused. I didn’t think there was anything esoteric or radical in my last couple of posts.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The issue about UBI or any other form of government forced redistribution is that it is forced, even if the bureaucrats call it welfare and tug on our heartstrings about the unfortunate people we are supposedly helping whether we want to or not.”

    Well, yes. That’s government.

    The problem with the military is that we’re forced to pay for it. The problem with the police is that we’re forced to pay for it. The problem with the courts and prisons is that we’re forced to pay for them. The problem with immigration enforcement, and drugs enforcement and customs and excise, and public roads, and collecting the garbage, and the space-race man-on-the-moon one-giant-leap-for-mankind thing, and every other damn thing is that we’re forced to pay for it. But we don’t write long essays saying that pensions for disabled veterans, or NASA’s space missions to the outer planets, or maintenance of the public roads are a political cancer that must be extirpated. There’s something else that’s bothering people about this in particular.

    Why bring up UBI in particular, when the objections being raised are the same ones that apply to everything? That’s the question I’ve not seen answered.

    “NIV upthread rather idealistically said: “But we have an agreed system for deciding that, and if we don’t like it we can vote for somebody who will stop doing it.” As if casting a vote once every five years for a Tory Tweedledee or a Labour Tweedledum made any significant difference when they are both lying through their teeth and making promises they have no intent of ever fulfilling!”

    This is not something they have to lie about. In fact the more they say they’re going to spend, the more votes they get. That’s why they say it. That’s why they do it.

    The problem here is the voters, not the politicians.

    “That does come back to Bobby b’s point about creating more homogeneous societies, within which there is little disagreement about major issues.”

    That’s exactly what authoritarians are aiming to do.

    It’s not about creating a more homogeneous society without major disagreements, it’s about creating a freer society that is more tolerant of major disagreements. I think that might have been what Bobby was getting at, (a society without internal barriers or opposing factions at war with one another,) but the way it’s phrased here brings to mind “the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own.”

    “Oh, hey, not offended; just quite confused. I didn’t think there was anything esoteric or radical in my last couple of posts.”

    I’m guessing he means me, and my discourse on fluid dynamics applied to the distributed processing architecture of the global free market. (For which I apologise – the problem is I *do* remember what Fermat’s Last Theorem is, and all the rest of it, and I like to talk about it. 🙂 )

  • Gavin Longmuir

    NIV: “The problem here is the voters, not the politicians.”

    Sounds like you too have given up on universal suffrage democracy. Any suggestions about where we go from here?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Sounds like you too have given up on universal suffrage democracy.”

    Not at all! Democracy is about as good a system as you’re going to get to give the people the freedom to make the choices about the policies that will affect them. Freedom necessarily includes the freedom to make mistakes, the freedom to hold wrong opinions.

    All I’m saying is that you’re wasting your time moaning about politicians and government bureaucrats. The solution, if there is one, is to educate the voters. To win the debate.

    That doesn’t mean to say it’s easy, of course. I’m just identifying the right problem to be thinking about.

  • neonsnake

    Any suggestions about where we go from here?

    Lots. But all of them start with this:

    The solution, if there is one, is to educate the voters.

    But the only way to do that is to listen to people’s concerns and attempt to understand them, which appears to be unpalatable.

    Give me someone from the stereotypical “left”, give me their passion for progress and for making the world a better place, their energy for change, their concern for the vulnerable, and let me put them in front of someone who is better versed in economics than I am, let me explain that by “liberty” I don’t just mean “liberty for those who conform”. Let me show that libertarians care, and that our methods work, and I’ll deliver your solution.

    But while we continue to think of “them” as evil, or immoral, or stupid, and treat them as such we don’t stand a chance in hell.

    Every time we laugh at the “woke”, we’re taking another step further back from what we want. Every time we take a dig at people for noting racism, inequality, whatever, and go on the attack instead of saying “Ok, mate, where has that come from? Here, have a beer and let’s talk it over, your heart’s in the right place, brothers and sisters, but let me suggest a different solution – hear me out, ok?”, we’re sabotaging ourselves.

    We can continue to take the piss out of the “woke”, and maybe we’ll convince ourselves of our righteousness, but in all honesty, it’s just masturbation.

    We can’t progress without winning over the voters, most especially the left. I gave up on the authoritarian right some time ago, although maybe that’s who I’m speaking to here, and hoping to at least make them think.

    Which is fine.

    Stock up on dried food, gas cannisters and candles for when the lights go out. But don’t blame the “left” when that happens.

    Blame ourselves for not engaging in a grown-up and proper manner.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    “The solution, if there is one, is to educate the voters.”

    Absolutely! But look who is educating the future voters today. Little children who barely understand what gender is are being force-fed transgenderism. Slightly older children are getting the full “You Are Oppressed” treatment. College students — well, enough said. The Long March Through The Educational Institutions has been a resounding victory for the Authoritarians. We have already lost that war — and lost badly.

    It would be great to establish rapport with the graduates of that mis-education and have real discussions. But it is not going to be easy; nor is it going to be fast. In the meantime, our societies continue to crumble round about us. And they are not crumbling because some of us fail to feel sufficiently guilty about what other long-dead people with similar skin tones did several centuries ago. They are crumbling because our Political Class today is (in our name) spending money they don’t have, piling up debts we and our great-great-grandchildren will never be able to repay, hollowing out our economies through over-regulation, and de-skilling our fellow citizens.

    Personally, I am a near-term pessimist. There is no way to change enough people’s minds to start focusing on the real problems anytime soon. (The real problems do not include Anthropogenic Global Warming, nor fires in the Amazon basin, nor transgendered bathrooms). Things that can’t go on, won’t go on — and that includes today’s wrong-direction societies. However, I remain a long-term optimist. After the inevitable collapse, there will in a generation or two be a rebirth. Our task is to preserve the seeds for that future regrowth.

  • neonsnake

    Personally, I am a near-term pessimist.

    I’m not. I’m a wild eyed optimist.

    College students — well, enough said. The Long March Through The Educational Institutions has been a resounding victory for the Authoritarians. We have already lost that war — and lost badly.

    What if…

    What if…just a thought…

    What if we ignore all the people telling us that this is true?

    What if we stop, and talk to the “kids”, and see what they actually think?

    What if we have a detox from the alt-right bollocks that’s poisoning us?

    I propose, through experience, that they’re lying, or (at best) just wrong. None of what “they” (the alt-right) says rings true.

    Don’t give up, Gavin!

    We’re so close!

  • bobby b

    ” I gave up on the authoritarian right some time ago, although maybe that’s who I’m speaking to here . . . “

    I don’t think authoritarians derive much comfort from libertarian sites such as Samizdata.

    “Give me someone from the stereotypical “left”, give me their passion for progress and for making the world a better place, their energy for change, their concern for the vulnerable . . . “

    How about someone from the right with those same passions and concerns?

    Don’t fall into the trap that holds that “passion . . . for making the world a better place” or “concern for the vulnerable” – niceness – humanity – belong solely to the left. We can have a deep desire for the exact same destination – a fair society, the minimum of pain and hunger, peace, etc. – and disagree strongly on how to get there.

    We don’t fight socialism because we want some people to be poor. We fight it because it has always – always – caused more poverty and pain and death than capitalism.

    We don’t fight taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves. We fight the caricatured exaggeration of that impulse that allows envy to be enough of a reason to demand such support instead of need.

    You’re essentially saying that you could be conservative too, if only you could do away with your concern for people. I’m here to tell you that it’s that concern for people that drives one to take liberty seriously.

    How, if one is concerned for people, can one fight for a political system and government that historically, predictably, wipes out millions of those people and leaves the rest depending on pull and influence and raw power? I’d say they’re either not truly concerned, or staggeringly blind to history, and yet those are the very people you cite to as being more “concerned for the vulnerable” than I.

    The poor and the disabled and the displaced and the shunned are going to have better lives in a libertarian/conservative world than they would under a “progressive” one.

  • neonsnake

    I don’t think authoritarians derive much comfort from libertarian sites

    I hope not; Samizdata is one of the sites that doesn’t seem to have been infiltrated by the authoritarian-right (or maybe alt-right is a better term) using the principle of free speech just to advance bloody awful things like antisemitism, and pretending that they’re libertarian.

    How about someone from the right with those same passions and concerns?

    *holds up mirror*

    Sure – but that person is you, and many of the others that I enjoy conversing with on here. Why do I need to show you that our methods work, and that libertarians care? You already know that. I don’t need to change your mind, and have no desire to. Biggest disagreement that you and I are likely to have is the best thing to do with a haunch of venison.

    We fight it because it has always – always – caused more poverty and pain and death than capitalism.

    “That’s because it’s never been tried properly”, right? 😉

    I’ll go further than you, and say that not only has it caused more poverty and pain in the past, but will do so in the future, because it’s based on flawed premises such as the Knowledge Problem – which I know you know, but people will always use the “never been implemented properly” argument unless we can show why it doesn’t and cannot work.

    You’re essentially saying that you could be conservative too

    Didn’t we agree that in US terms, as you use the word, I probably am (small-c) conservative?

    If conservatism means “small government, respect for the individual, equality before the law and equality of opportunity (not outcome), and a cautious, incrementalist, but but above all optimistic approach to change”, then I’ll cheerfully concede the point to you, and note that because you’ve got me to concede, it’s my turn to go to the bar.

    If conservative means kow-towing to tradition just because we can’t conceive of anything better, a reactionary fear of change and new ways of thinking or living, and a requirement to doff my cap to the upper classes or bend at the knee for the monarchy, then that’s a different thing – but I have no reason to think that you mean that, and plenty of reasons to think otherwise!

    yet those are the very people you cite to as being more “concerned for the vulnerable” than I.

    No – massive apologies if that’s how it came across, but for the record: I absolutely don’t think that socialists are more concerned for the vulnerable than you (if I thought that, then I’m saying that they’re more concerned than myself, as well).

    But I believe that if we have any hope of furthering “the cause”, then we need to persuade voters (we can’t wait for a saviour to rise from the streets into the government to do it for us!) of the virtues of liberty.

    Further, I don’t believe that I personally have a chance of persuading anyone on the authoritarian right – the types who want the government to be “Father” and tell us children how to behave. Someone like me, with my views, will just be (at best) derided as a libertine. However, realistically, those types of authoritarian-right views appear to be dying out – although I have a nervousness around the alt-right.

    So that leaves us with the biggest remaining group – the left.

    I do fancy my/our chances with the average person who thinks of themself as “progressive” (not the far far left), since “all” (!) we have to do is point out that the government is not the best way to solve problems or improve the lot of the most vulnerable – which we (you, me, and others of our ilk) truly do care about. I know that can seem an impossibly large task, but it’s really not. Many of them have just been pushed into what they feel is an impossible choice between “mummy” state, and “Father” state.

    And we certainly can’t do it if we’re alienating them at every chance.

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