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

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Samizdata quote of the day

The welfare model suffers from a fatal flaw: over time, welfare as a right is bound to erode personal responsibility and self-sufficiency. The mutual self-interest that drives successful capitalist societies is replaced by clientelism and dependency. Something for something is replaced by something for nothing. But instead of acknowledging the flaws in the model, generations of politicians have expanded the remit and reach of the state.

Creative Destruction

58 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Lee Moore

    I agree entirely, and I’d add some related complaints.

    Even with private charity, there exists the danger of fostering dependency and so harming the person you are trying to help. And even with private charity there is the associated danger – not certainty, but danger – of a self righteous sense of superiority metastising in the bosom of the donor. Which takes its ghastliest form in charity events where a herd of the self satisfied rich assemble to pat themselves on the back over a good meal and some booze. With perhaps an aria or two thrown in.

    But once charity becomes institutionalised – with full time employees and boards of directors etc – it cannot but attract those suffering from the next stage of the cancer of self righteousness – the belief that you are doing God’s work and may not be interfered with, least of all by your “clients.’ (For “God read whatever deity you worship, not excluding “Justice’ amd “Human Rights.”)

    The final stage of the cancer is the welfare state, where the apparatchiks have formed the unalterable opinion that they are Higher Beings and their task goes well beyond administering welfare to their charges, but encompasses administering the charges themselves. This, as noted above, is not beneficial to the charges themselves. But for the apparatchiks themselves, the insolence of office has grown so swollen and pustulous that their own souls have entirely drowned in self righteousness. In the terrible, pitiable end you crystallise out as a Family Court Judge.

  • Fraser Orr

    A question, what is the difference between these two things:
    1. I will pay you $1,000 if you vote for me
    2. I will pay off your $100,000 student loan if you vote for me.

    The first if a felony, punishable by 3-5 years in jail.
    The second is the Democrat Party’s election platform.

  • Lee Moore

    The other difference is that

    1. involves spending your own money, or money that other peole have voluntarily given you for the purpose (felony) while

    2. involves spending money forcibly extracted from innocent taxpayers on pain of punishment (perfectly legal)

  • bobby b

    Fraser Orr
    September 13, 2019 at 5:44 am

    “I will pay off your $100,000 student loan if you vote for me.”

    The Boring Legalist response to your comment would be, that’s not what they said. They said “I will pay off your $100,000 student loan if I win the election.”

    There’s no quid pro quo because there’s no way for anyone to prove to the candidate that they voted for him. Thus, there’s no enforceable contract, and so there’s no legally-prohibited vote-buying.

    Of course, we all know that this is vote-buying.

    But . . . . what campaigning isn’t?

    Every time we vote, we’re trying to elect someone who has promised to benefit us in some way, either in some financial manner or simply to guide society in ways of which we approve. I’ve voted for many candidates because they promised to give me what I want. I imagine we all have.

    I’m glad that this became a campaign promise for several of the Dems. I’m guessing they lose ten votes for every one this promise brings in. “Let’s take money from all of you and pay for these self-entitled little SJW’s’ party years!” That’s as good as Beto’s “we’re taking your guns!”

  • Henry Cybulski

    All government welfare, aid and relief are forms of voting buying. Politicians get away with it because the collection system is so widely distributed, so even those who don’t benefit go along with it, thinking it doesn’t hurt me all that much. Until it does of course, and it will.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    This is one of the failings of Democracies everywhere- the Mandate Principle. Politicians usually need to make promises so we will vote for them, and they can then claim a mandate to expand government (more taxes) to fulfil what the people obviously want. Sometimes you get a politician who promises to reduce laws and red tape (didn’t Reagan do just that in California?), but such instances are rare.
    Another failing is the Equality Principle- all democracies should start off with everyone equal, using force if you need to. French Revolution, anyone?
    The next failing might be called the Majoritarian Principle. Who needs minorities? Why should they have rights? If the majority of People’s Representatives decide on something, it must be right! This might also be called the General Will. This is why lynchings are so popular- except for minorities, everyone else can join in!!
    Any other failings, Libertarians?

  • Michael Taylor

    A welfare system may, inter alia, encourage dependency (although it depends how seriously it is patrolled for free riders), but this observation is surely an inadequate foundation upon which to argue about the pros and cons of how a society can best respond or react to those who are failing to thrive within it.

    The mutual self-interest which underpins all societies surely meets its limiting condition if the person next door is starving to death or, more likely, dying of hypothermia or untreated disease.

    This may not be obvious if you live in the anonymity of a megalopolis, but it is if you live in a small town or a village where you know your neighbours and care about them.

    Which leads to a genuine question: do megalopolises inevitably involve the destruction of those mutual ties which comprise society? And if so: a) should they be constrained; and b) should we listen to those politicians/philosophers who know only life in the megalopolis? It’s a good question, since it appears that these are taking over the world.

  • State welfare systems are Milton Friedman’s ‘category IV’ spending: the bureaucrat is spending someone else’s money on other people.

    Friedman divided the money then spent on welfare in the US by the number of poor people entitled to it: “If this money were all going to the poor, there would be no poor.”

    The OP and thread are true (and it’s a truth well worth stating), but the well-salaried bureaucrats running institutions causing the problem are resolved not to care, in the first instance by not noticing. (Thomas Sowell stopped being a marxist when he noticed how determinedly his left-wing colleagues never studied the effect of their aid programmes. The theory said the effect would be great – so no facts ever needed to be gathered.)

    Draining that bureaucratic swamp may be harder than de-fanging the deep state – and can probably not be attempted before.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    Are there any significant differences between a Welfare System and a protection racket?

    Give us yer money, we’ll protect you. ‘Orrible things will happen to your children if you don’t pay.

  • Douglas2

    There’s no quid pro quo because there’s no way for anyone to prove to the candidate that they voted for him.

    In the last US presidential election 25% of ballots were the not-secret sort because of postal-voting, and groups such as the ACLU are working very hard to remove secrecy from voting-booth ballots as well, having achieved judicial injunctions against enforcement of ballot secrecy laws in New Hampshire, Indiana, and Michigan

  • Fraser Orr

    bobby b
    The Boring Legalist response to your comment would be, that’s not what they said. They said “I will pay off your $100,000 student loan if I win the election.”

    So you are saying that the politicians don’t go to jail because their promises are dishonest, that is to say not enforceable? It tells you a lot when your protection from criminal prosecution comes from your own dishonesty.

    And FWIW, there is a pretty substantial difference between voting for government thugs to take money from other people and give it to yourself and voting for the government thugs to leave you the hell alone. Certainly “leave me the hell alone” is a benefit, but there is little equivalence to the former. And that is what I (and I suspect you) usually vote for.

  • bobby b

    “So you are saying that the politicians don’t go to jail because their promises are dishonest, that is to say not enforceable?”

    Pretty much exactly, yeah.

    Remember, if {dishonest = illegal}, we wouldn’t need two distinct words for the concepts. 🙂

    (Although, we should probably consider “campaign promises” to be aspirational statements and not true contractual promises, anyway. Consider the case of a candidate who “promises” to build a border wall, and then, in spite of his reasonable efforts to so do, cannot secure the necessary cooperation of other needed government officials. Was he dishonest? Or should we consider his “best efforts” as performance?)

  • bobby b

    “It tells you a lot when your protection from criminal prosecution comes from your own dishonesty.”

    Sorry, had to comment on this separately.

    I was watching television a few days ago, and saw a commercial for some weight-loss product that always sort of enrages me. The spokesperson “Doctor” tells us that this product causes us to lose “four times as much weight”!

    Four times as much as . . . what?!

    They don’t say.

    Our society is based, to a large extent, on walking right up to the edge of illegality and leaning out over it. So long as we don’t cross that line, we might call it “sharp practice”, but we don’t call it “illegal.” That’s the essence of marketing, and what are politicians if not marketers?

    And I find that to be a very libertarian-friendly concept. Laws should have sharp edges and lines and you ought to have been unquestionably over those edges and lines before society can claim you’ve transgressed and punish you for it. It ought to be left up to our own characters as to whether or not we’re “sharp operators”, so long as we don’t cross that explicit line into illegality.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    “… generations of politicians have expanded the remit and reach of the state.”

    Indeed! Although it would be more complete to say that generations of voters have allowed generations of politicians … We the People have to take some of the blame. Who would have guessed that politicians who promise to rob Peter to pay Paul would get so much support from Peter?

    We could nibble round the margins, or we could go to the heart of the matter: Universal Suffrage Democracy has proven to be an unsound basis for a people to govern themselves. Fortunately, it is unsustainable, and will inevitably collapse. The question is — What would we advise the next generation to do differently if they want to avoid the same fate?

  • Stonyground

    Bobby B, you need to stop getting angry about advertisements and start using them as training aids in the art of spotting logical fallacies. The non sequitur is the most commonly used I think. The straw man must be a close second. I’m not sure if there is a technical term for a completely meaningless statement about something being several times better than an unspecified amount.

  • Revelation

    A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse doe to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship

    Alexander Tyler

  • Paul Marks

    This was recognised by the Welfare Reform in Wisconsin and then in the United States generally – in the 1990s (Bill Clinton at first OPPOSED Welfare Reform and then took the credit for it).

    As was understood in the past – government must NOT give money to people medically capable of work, in return for no-work. People able in body and mind must not just have money thrown at them by government – it undermines them, and it produces terrible results over generations with the rise of a welfare “Under Class”.

    The horrible thing is that people who used to understand the above (such as Charles Murray – “Losing Ground”) have forgotten it – and have come to endorse government hand-outs under such names as the “negative income tax” or the “universal basic income”.

    Money is just about the last thing that people should be given by government – not even the Ancient Romans tended to do that. “Feed the children of the poor”, “give people a roof over their head”, “clothe the naked – protect them from the cold” has nothing to do with giving money – as the money will (after the culture has been undermined) go on gambling, drinking and drug abuse. Again the much condemned “Victorians” understood this – and we must recapture their insight.

    Society, the CULTURE, matters – for example opium used to be legal in the West, but few people used it to any great extent – the Chinese used it (on mass) because Chinese SOCIETY was in very great difficulty in the 19th century (and that was NOT the fault of the West).

    Now the situation is reversed – it is the West that has the “opiod epidemic” – everywhere from Kettering Northamptonshire, to West Virginia is in the grip of mass drug abuse. And the laws against this drug abuse are totally ineffective in the face of the decline of the CULTURE, in the face of the decline of SOCIETY.

    The old associations of mutual support (both religious and secular) have been horribly undermined, as has the family itself – instead there is the endless throwing of money by government. And calling these hand-outs a “negative income tax” or a “universal basic income” would not change the terrible HARM they have done to vast numbers of poor people – by undermining the culture (by undermining civil society).

    If we truly care about the poor we must reject this policy of money payments in return for no work.Society (the culture) will take a long time to rebuild – but we must at least make a start.

  • Paul Marks

    It should be noted that none of the government benefit or public services schemes was really “people voting themselves …..” – all of these schemes (in all major countries in the West) were the result of an “educated” elite giving people what they (the “educated” elite) thought they SHOULD have – without them (the ordinary people) actually asking for it.

    It is quite true that once people are given “free” services and benefits they become used to them (corrupted by them – especially over generations) and resist any reduction in them – but the introduction of these public services and benefits was NOT the fault of democracy, the people did NOT ask for these things. The “educated” elite introduced these things – and for “high minded” reasons, NOT to gain votes.

    For example, the first universal “free” health care service was introduced in the Soviet Union in the 1920s (a dictatorship – a place where the people had no say in policy), it was this that was the inspiration for the NHS – the claims (made in establishment “history” textbooks and television programmes) that the NHS was based on this or that company health scheme, or this or that “Friendly Society” (mutual aid association) health cover, being absurd (the NHS is very clearly a copy of the system in the Soviet Union – government owned hospitals, health care free-at-the-point-of-use, the entire nation being covered in top-down planning…..). Actually one could make an argument for this system (the system of “free” treatment) if the alternative is the government paying out MONEY (rather than health care) – as the government paying out money (rather than health care) will lead to the mass “ripping off” of the taxpayers and a vast inflation of health costs (as in the United States with Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, Obamacare, and so on).

    Even Bismark’s pushing of limited welfare schemes in the 19th century was not really about answering a demand from “below” – it was a positive faith (by Bismark) in the Prussian State – a faith that went back a long way, to Frederick the Great (mass state education) and so on, in the late 1700s.

    If one traces collectivism back through time it goes back (at least) to Plato – and Plato was no democrat.

  • Stonyground

    Is it the case that the plethora of fake charities and quangos that we have in the UK are a form of welfare to work? The kind of office based administative work that they provide is in demand in the private sector but maybe not enough to keep all those who are qualified for this kind of work employed? The fact that these organisations produce nothing of any value is incidental to their actual purpose?

  • pete

    Another disadvantage of a huge state is that it creates a large class of state employees who the diminishing proportion of workers in the wealth creating private sector have to provide with good wages and good terms and conditions.

    These state workers are an important electoral force, and are unlikely to vote for politicians who promise to shrink the state.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Paul, excellent observations. The second, especially, is something I rarely hear.

    Pete, very good point.

    Big fleas have little fleas
    Upon their backs to bite ’em
    And little fleas have lesser fleas
    And so ad infinitum.

    But what about the dogs that feed the lot of them?

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Julie: “But what about the dogs that feed the lot of them?”

    Exactly, Julie. Why do the dogs from whom the fleas are squeezing blood put up with it?

    OK, a mere dog cannot invent a flea bath, let alone manufacture one. But why do intelligent productive citizens willingly submit themselves to what is effectively a form of tyranny? Yes, we get to vote once every few years for Tweedledum or Tweedledee, both of whom are likely to be greasy-pole climbers looking out for Number One, and neither of whom can be trusted. We can see that what those Tweedledopes are doing to us is unsustainable in several different ways. We can see that the road they have put us on leads to tears — for us, if not for them. And yet we submit as good little docile peons should, and close our eyes to avoid seeing the nakedness of the emperors who rule over us.

    Strange!

  • neonsnake

    have come to endorse government hand-outs under such names as the “negative income tax” or the “universal basic income”

    Yup. I endorse them, or similar.

    Because:

    we must at least make a start.

    Whether it’s literally NIT or UBI, or something similar, I don’t care. I care about making the start.

    Dismissing such proposals out of hand is so brutal, it’s a non-starter. We either leave welfare how it is, or we go for something like NIT or UBI, or we remove it all together. The “remove it all together” option is not palatable, since it kills people for the good of society, and frankly, I’m not the kind of guy who approves of killing people for the greater good what with not being a fascist, nor a communist.

    At some point, we have to make the start.

    Dismissing the start is very unhelpful.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Well, we did make a start in the ’90s, when Clinton was President and Gingrich was Speaker of the House. And apparently it really was a strong step in the direction away from “You’re in trouble, bro, so here’s a handout from somebody’s great-uncle Fred (you don’t know him and neither do I, so that’s all right then) and some dame in Cincinnati that nobody every heard of.” With good results in the main.

    Very interesting article at WikiFootia:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_Responsibility_and_Work_Opportunity_Act

    One shocking note: Frances Fox Piven did not approve of the welfare reform. 😯

    .

    That’s a much better way to go about dismantling the Government Welfare System than “Everybody gets a handout. It’s FREE!”

    But it needs to be accompanied by explanations repeated over and over for those who tend to the abstract and examples for those who are more receptive to stories. Otherwise detractors have the microphone all to themselves.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    neonsnake: “At some point, we have to make the start.”

    Our forefathers made the start a long time ago — arguably in the early 20th Century. And we have kept on ‘making starts’. As some people never tire of pointing out, President LBJ launched a well-intended War on Poverty about half a century ago, and despite great expense we still have about as much poverty as ever. There is lots of room for serious discussion about why LBJ’s War on Poverty has been unsuccessful, but that very expensive ongoing experiment does seem to show that simply handing out money does not fix the problem. But handing out money (especially Other People’s Money) is the easy course of action for any government.

    “The “remove it all together” option is not palatable …”

    Agreed! But the “Whole society goes bankrupt and collapses because we can’t afford the commitments we have made” option is not palatable either. And unfortunately, that is the option we are currently pursuing.

    This is a very difficult issue, because none of us want to see our fellow citizens in distress or dying needlessly. And yet at the same time, any objective view shows that the root of a lot of problems is people’s own behavior. I speculate that this is one of the reasons that societies up until the early 20th Century had very strong social disapproval mechanisms for the “loose woman”. No-one wanted to see the resulting illegitimate child have a desperately hard life — but at the same time, people could barely afford to raise their own children, let alone pay for someone else’s child. The solution earlier societies reached was to discourage behavior which could result in out-of-wedlock births. That kind of social control was harsh, but it was probably the least bad alternative at the time. Now we think we are wealthy and can afford to relax all social controls. Time will demonstrate whether we are as wealthy as we think we are.

  • Lee Moore

    The “remove it all together” option is not palatable, since it kills people for the good of society, and frankly, I’m not the kind of guy who approves of killing people for the greater good what with not being a fascist, nor a communist.

    This sounds rather weaselly to me. Fascists and communists do not kill you by leaving you alone to go about your occasions unmolested. If you are left alone to fend for yourself, by such voluntary associations as you can muster, and you prove unequal to the task of keeping yourself alive, it is not fascists or communists who have killed you, but Mother Nature.

    Fascists and communists kill you by shooting you, or by poisoning you, or by steaing your food or by otherwise actively preventing you from entering into voluntary assocations whereby you might keep yourself alive, or by sticking you in a chilly Siberian camp – ie by actual malevolent human intervention.

    Except in the case where you have deliberately assumed responsibility for keeping someone else alive – as with parents and children – the notion that by leaving someone alone you are killing them, seems to me to be mere Graunist sophistry, born of the pretence that human society is, and operates on the same moral principles as, a family.

    There may be good moral reasons for using the awesome powers of the State to rob Peter to pay Paul, but that this is essential to avoid becoming a fascist or communist seems fanciful.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “As some people never tire of pointing out, President LBJ launched a well-intended War on Poverty about half a century ago, and despite great expense we still have about as much poverty as ever.”

    I’d argue that the world has a great deal less poverty than it did, objectively speaking, but not because of the handouts. The problem here is that we judge poverty in relative rather than absolute terms. If you mean by “poverty” that some people are still a lot poorer than other people (while all of them are much richer than people used to be) then yes, obviously.

    “This is a very difficult issue, because none of us want to see our fellow citizens in distress or dying needlessly. And yet at the same time, any objective view shows that the root of a lot of problems is people’s own behavior.”

    The first sentence is Neonsnake’s point! We have acquired a reputation whereby a lot of people think we don’t care, and that’s not good for persuading people to join us. We always concentrate on the negative – stop handing out free money – but rarely talk to the same extent about the positive – our alternative plan to fix it. The root of a lot of the problems is people’s own behaviour. So one solution is to educate people in how to behave if they want to become more prosperous. Another is to fix the system so people are motivated to change their behaviour. Then because we don’t want to see our fellow citizens in distress or dying needlessly, we keep the payments up temporarily, but only until the measures to change behaviour take effect.

    One problem with the system is that at the bottom end of the earnings/income graph, minimal welfare renders the curve horizontal (the red line). This means that up to a certain point, people get exactly the same whether they work or not. Every extra dollar they earn is taken away from them in reduced benefits, so there is no motive to work. (And because of the way the system works, often a strong motivation not to.) They are being hit with an effective 100% tax rate, and obviously, if you take away all of someone’s earnings they stop working!

    We *know* this. We constantly argue it about people at the top end of the income curve. So why do we ignore the exact same point when talking about the people at the bottom? It’s not some contemptible moral failing, that someone being hit by a 100% income tax rate refuses to work for free purely for the good of the rest of society. It isn’t so for the people at the top – far less so for the people at the bottom. That’s just how economics works. And as people who claim to be more economically literate than the socialists, this is not a point that we should be failing to understand!

    So how can we get rid of this 100% tax rate, and restore these people’s motivation to work? By ensuring that the earnings/income graph always slopes up, so it is always the case that the more you work, the more you get. How can we at the same time avoid seeing our fellow citizens in distress or dying needlessly? By starting the graph at a minimum level above zero, and ensuring it slopes up from there (the green line). It’s an economically literate way to structure welfare so as to restore people’s motivation to work and therefore get *off* welfare, instead of being trapped there forever by a stupidly-imposed 100% tax rate. This is UBI.

    And as Neonsnake says, it’s distinctly ‘unhelpful’ to have our friends trashing the idea with even more vitriol than they use on flat-line welfare. Yes, it’s still welfare. But it’s a start in the right direction.

    “If you are left alone to fend for yourself, by such voluntary associations as you can muster, and you prove unequal to the task of keeping yourself alive, it is not fascists or communists who have killed you, but Mother Nature.”

    Uh-huh. So, there’s a car accident and you’re left paralysed from the neck down. You’ve spent all your savings on medical bills, and now you’re sat in the hospital car park wondering what to do next. The crows are gathering – they’ve seen this before.

    The people watch with interest. “Mother Nature can be a real bitch, can’t she?” observes one.

  • Lee Moore

    Hmm. So you’re agreeing with neonsnake that people who walk by on the other side after your car accident are fascists or communists ? This is not my understanding, I have to say.

    Meanwhile your UBI puff is misconceived because it deals with just the compensation side of labour and ignores the other side – the actual labour. Little progress can be made in economic thinking if you only examine benefits and ignore costs. The fellow who puts in 40 hours of labour to earn £400 is not £400 better off than the fellow who sits on the sofa and earns nothing. He is up £400 and down 40 hours labour.

    So how can we get rid of this 100% tax rate, and restore these people’s motivation to work?

    By not giving anyone capable of work a halfpenny unless it is in exchange for work. It does not need to be useful work that benefits the community (though it would be nice if it were) it just needs to be work that the fellow doesn’t want to do, as much as he doesn’t want to do the work in a real job. If you get £300 welfare for digging and refilling a trench in the rain, for forty hours; then you have every incentive to find an actual job paying you £400 for 40 hours work, or £300 for 35 hours work. The way to make sure the graph always slopes upwards is to stop paying people to do nothing.

    Look, I understand lazy people. I am a member of the lazy community. I know what works for my people.

  • neonsnake

    This is not my understanding, I have to say.

    Nor mine. I might render some judgement on them, mind.

    But no: I’m thinking more that in the society we actually live in, we have car insurance. Removing welfare wholesale tomorrow would be like cancelling all car insurance, and telling people that if they have an accident, no matter whose fault it is, then they’re on their own. Oh, and also, we’ve taken the seatbelts out of the car.

    Sure, over time, people will undoubtedly become more careful drivers, and it will all have been for the best – it will have been for their own good, because less people will be injured in accidents, and car insurance that pays for a new car and for your hospital treatment might be scant comfort if you’ve lost your legs.

    But tomorrow, I still need to get to work, and people haven’t yet adjusted, so a number of people will die, or will be injured, or will lose their car to damages, and be left with no means to get to work.

    So, removing welfare wholesale tomorrow, with no adjustment period or interim measures, may well be for their own good in the end – but people will die, in the meantime. And that’s not something I’m prepared to support. It’s as bad as fascism or communism – both systems, of course, thinking they were for “the greater good”.

    (Not to mention, unless we’re talking about a hostile coup, any measures we propose have to be voted for, and if I’m not prepared to support something like that, with all my talk of self-reliance, what chance is there of your typical voter supporting it? Two hopes, I’d say, Bob and Zero. And Bob is long dead)

    So, there needs to be interim solutions. Whether it’s UBI or not, I honestly don’t know. But we certainly can’t go from “welfare!” to “3,2,1, no welfare! Go!” without something in between.

    And all of the in between measures are, on some sense, going to be “welfare” of some description – but hopefully better.

    That’s why when the interim solutions, and the people looking at them, are trashed, as NIV says, I find it mildly unhelpful, to say the least.

    The reason they get trashed of course, is that no-one (bar me and a few others) wants to be “non-pure” and say “mmm, well, actually, maybe this much welfare might actually be a good idea, in practice”. It’s far easier, and far more PC, to say that all people on welfare are lazy, it’s their own fault; whilst simultaneously blaming the government for creating welfare traps.

    Both are true, of course, in some cases. But in most cases, welfare is paid out to people who lost their job through no fault of their own, until they find another job. And it’s that nuance that we’re trying to work through by looking at systems that yes, are still welfare, but are better, and don’t totally screw people who have committed no sins and have been unlucky.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Neonsnake: “And it’s that nuance that we’re trying to work through by looking at systems that yes, are still welfare, but are better, and don’t totally screw people who have committed no sins and have been unlucky.”

    You do realize that what you are describing is what human beings created and used up through the 19th Century, before government took over? Individuals have always had problems, and they had support networks — extended family, church, social organizations, local charities. All of these dealt with the individual and his problem holistically. The people extending the help knew the person, and understood the environment. (‘You quit drinking, and I will help you find a job’). And there was dignity, because it was mutual — today you are helping me; tomorrow I may be helping you.

    When government took over, people who needed help were no longer individual human beings — merely cases to be squeezed into some dehumanizing bureaucratic framework. Rather than attack the straw man that indigents are to be kicked out onto the street, it would be more constructive to think about how we can restore the better parts of the ways that human beings evolved over centuries to deal with these kinds of difficulties.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “So you’re agreeing with neonsnake that people who walk by on the other side after your car accident are fascists or communists?”

    I wouldn’t use those terms, because I prefer to retain them as descriptive terms for particular political/economic philosophies. But in the pejorative sense I think Neonsnake intended them, yes, I think it’s something just as bad. The reason that fascists and communists have the horrific reputation they have is not because they misunderstood the economics, but because they put political purity when implementing their own belief system ahead of any empathy for the rest of humanity. The intensity of their political beliefs made them, in certain ways and to certain people, uncaring psychopaths.

    Gavin said “This is a very difficult issue, because none of us want to see our fellow citizens in distress or dying needlessly.” However, it appears that this is untrue. Some of us in fact have no problem whatsoever with seeing our fellow citizens in distress or dying needlessly. And it was that character trait, far more than any disagreements over policy, that makes fascists and communists so hated.

    Like I said, welfare claimants are trapped in a system that by our own understanding of economics explains their behaviour perfectly. If you charge someone an effective 100% tax rate, they won’t work. But we’ll ignore our own economic philosophy and instead put the blame on them and their ‘laziness’, just as socialists put the blame for rich people doing the same on their ‘greed’. And yet most minimum wage workers I know work far harder (in the ditch-digging sense), far longer hours than I do, in far worse conditions. I’ve known people to get jobs and wind up taking home less than they got in benefits, because they have to pay commuting costs (bus or train fares), and uniforms, and child-care costs, and so on. They’re the disabled. They’re the carers. They’re the illiterate and innumerate. They’re the mentally ill. They often can’t afford to work, but despite everything a majority of them nevertheless still want to.

    If you have no sympathy and offer no solutions, they’ll conclude you’re an evil bastard and vote for the socialists. If you can tell them that in fact you do sympathise, but because you understand economics you are proposing a different solution, one more likely to be effective, they might listen.

    Because if you don’t care about the victims, if you have no sympathy, then what exactly is your beef with the fascists and communists? OK, they killed millions, but so what, if we don’t care about what happens to other people? Often living in other countries, with different cultures, and who often voted for or supported the communists/fascists who promised them deliverance from the selfish rich? It was their own fault for not being like you, right? Why would you care about being compared to communists and fascists, if there’s nothing wrong with their attitude to those trampled by their political philosophy? Are the differences important to anyone?

    We have an economic system that has dragged our civilisation out of subsistence farming by medieval peasants living in mud huts to a world of computers and satellites and robot factories in under 500 years. Our ancestors of a hundred years ago were not stupid, and they were not lazy, but they couldn’t do what we do – they were, by our standards, incredibly poor. Poverty is not solved simply by a willingness to do hard work, or any medieval serf ought to be wealthier than we are. Poverty is fixed by the system we’ve built – that’s why we love it, why we argue for it, why we promote it. If we had no sympathy for the poor, if we had no sympathy for our poor ancestors, or admiration for their hard work despite their poverty, what the hell reason would we be arguing for? Sympathy for the poor, and working to alleviate poverty is what our economic philosophy is all about, and why it is morally superior. Because it’s the only one that really works, and does this.

    “Meanwhile your UBI puff is misconceived because it deals with just the compensation side of labour and ignores the other side – the actual labour. Little progress can be made in economic thinking if you only examine benefits and ignore costs.”

    I don’t understand what you’re talking about, here. In what way was I not considering the costs?

    “The fellow who puts in 40 hours of labour to earn £400 is not £400 better off than the fellow who sits on the sofa and earns nothing. He is up £400 and down 40 hours labour.”

    Where did I say the person putting in 40 hours of labour is £400 better off than the one sat on the sofa? My exact point was that he *wasn’t*. The one on the sofa has £400. The one who goes out to work is down 40 hours of work, and has no more money. So they are effectively being paid £0 for that work! That’s what I mean by an effective 100% income tax. Clearly it would be stupid for them to do it! That’s not laziness, that’s just common sense.

    But suppose the guy sat on the sofa gets £400 for doing nothing. The guy who goes out to work 40 hours gets £800, £400 from benefits, £400 for the work. Now they’re down 40 hours of work, but up an extra £400, which is more valuable to them. Profit. Motivation. Suddenly it makes sense to get off the sofa and go out to work. It still makes some sense if it’s only £200 extra for 40 hours of work, because that’s still £200 more, instead of zero. And that’s more production, and lower prices for everyone.

    There are probably far better ways of alleviating poverty, I’d not argue with that. But please don’t give the impression that it isn’t our aim, or that we have no sympathy for the poor.

    “It does not need to be useful work that benefits the community (though it would be nice if it were) it just needs to be work that the fellow doesn’t want to do”

    That’s pointless. It saves us no money, and just increases the sum total of human misery, which is precisely the opposite of what we want to do.

    It needs to be something that gets them back into productive work. Education, training, work experience, assistive technology, whatever. If you can’t find anything that does that, the failure is yours, not theirs, and they’re not the ones who should be punished for it.

  • neonsnake

    But in the pejorative sense I think Neonsnake intended them, yes, I think it’s something just as bad.

    That’s exactly how I intended them. I might not think the guys musing over the car accident victim are, exactly, communists or fascists, but if they’re implementing systems knowing that people will die, then they’re something just as bad.

    They often can’t afford to work, but despite everything a majority of them nevertheless still want to.

    Wow! What an interesting observation!

    😉

    It’s almost as if people want to retain their dignity and improve their lot in life!

    Great paragraph, very well put. I could not agree more.

  • neonsnake

    You do realize that what you are describing is what human beings created and used up through the 19th Century, before government took over? Individuals have always had problems, and they had support networks — extended family, church, social organizations, local charities

    Apparently so, or so people say.

    You say it’s a straw man that people will get kicked to the curb, and you may be right.

    I honestly don’t know. I wasn’t around in the 18th or early 19th century (despite appearances 😉 ), so I can’t say for certain.

    I don’t know how true it is. It might be true, or it might be a nice fiction that people like us tell ourselves. Maybe, in 1870, everyone who fell through the cracks lived a full life and got themselves back on their feet because of charity, and didn’t die on the streets or had to turn tricks to survive? I don’t know. It was a long time ago.

    Even if so, I’d need to be absolutely persuaded that those sort of institutions will spring up again, spontaneously, before changing my mind. I’d also need persuading that they’d be impartial, and that will take some doing – especially if we’re including the Church in such institutions.

    Julie (I think), pointed out a couple of weeks ago that we’ve trained society to believe that if David loses his job, Big Kindly Bearded Uncle Government will step in and help him, so we don’t need to – apologies for paraphrasing, Julie! – and, I think she’s right.

    We’ve had a few generations now of government assistance, and we need to wean ourselves off it. Cold turkey isn’t an option here, we’ve forgotten how to do it.

    I can talk until the cows come home about community and what I think our duties are to our friends, family, neighbours etc, and I feel very strongly indeed that we have a moral duty to group together and use our own unique skills to help others around us; but I cannot impose that view.

    I don’t have the moral right (that sentence may contradict itself, but whatever) to force anyone to accept my morality, no matter how strongly I feel about it – which is why I don’t tend to talk about how I feel we should treat others, other than a sense of leaving them to do their own shit, and supporting them in doing so.

    There’s a difference between “should” and “must”, I think.

  • Nullius in Verba

    Orwell wrote this in the 20th century.

    http://www.workhouses.org.uk/lit/spike.shtml

  • neonsnake

    From Down and Out In Paris and London, no less, I believe.

    I’m sure the charities were of much help.

  • neonsnake

    Some musings:

    What if morally, and practically, free markets required welfare?

    I’ve put companies out of business. I believe it was the right decision, of course.

    Would I have done so, had I not been sure that the employees wouldn’t have fallen by the way side?

    I don’t know. Maybe not, in all honesty.

    Maybe, we require that safety net to function optimally.

    Food for thought, anyway. 😮

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Neonsnake: “Would I have done so [put companies out of business], had I not been sure that the employees wouldn’t have fallen by the way side?”

    Realistically, what you did was necessary & inevitable. If you had consciously made bad purchasing decisions to try to keep a supplier company in business, then your own business would have suffered, and eventually gone bankrupt as customers went elsewhere. Then two sets of former employees would have found themselves on the outside.

    Maybe I have missed it, but I am not aware of anyone seriously suggesting that current government welfare systems should be shut down cold turkey, with zero concern for current recipients. On the other hand, serious people have made a good case that current government welfare systems are at best demeaning & horribly inefficient, and at worst are actually damaging to the individuals in the system and/or to broader society.

    Yes, we need safety nets. But government bureaucracies are a poor way to provide a safety net. And we know that government safety nets will rip apart when government profligacy eventually catches up with a country — see Zimbabwe or Venezuela, and remember that we in the unsustainably indebted West are heading down the same road. So where do we go from here?

  • Lee Moore

    moi : “It does not need to be useful work that benefits the community (though it would be nice if it were) it just needs to be work that the fellow doesn’t want to do”

    Nullius : “That’s pointless. It saves us no money, and just increases the sum total of human misery, which is precisely the opposite of what we want to do.’

    Sure, all other things being equal. Which they aren’t.

    The question is – would there be any more welfare recipients (and thus fewer productive labourers producing goods and services for society) if :

    (a) welfare recipients get money for nothing, rather than
    (b) welfare recipients get money for disagreeable, and perhaps pointless, labour

    My submission, supported by Microeconomics 101 is that there will be fewer welfare recipients and more productive workers in scenario (b). In Joe Sofa’s mind (and I am deeply familiar with Joe Sofa’s mind – for I am he) the subjective value of :

    (x) {40 hours a week with nasty early starts collecting garbage for £600 a week} is much much more likely to be higher than

    (y) {40 hours a week with nasty early starts digging and refilling trenches for £400 a week}

    than it is to be higher than

    (z) {£400 a week for resting on the sofa}

    For some Joe Sofas (y) will still beat (x), but for many Joe Sofas for whom (z) beats (x), (x) will beat (y).

    Thus it is not pointless to insist on labour for welfare money. There’s a point. It increases the supply of workers in productive jobs (that they have themselves chosen) and so increases the resources available to society. The cost is that those who are still welfare recipients under scenario (b) have to labour to get their money. Like everyone in productive work does.

    But suppose the guy sat on the sofa gets £400 for doing nothing. The guy who goes out to work 40 hours gets £800, £400 from benefits, £400 for the work. Now they’re down 40 hours of work, but up an extra £400, which is more valuable to them. Profit. Motivation. Suddenly it makes sense to get off the sofa and go out to work. It still makes some sense if it’s only £200 extra for 40 hours of work, because that’s still £200 more, instead of zero. And that’s more production, and lower prices for everyone.

    Agreed, except you are starting with a deadweight of £400 per head, abstracted from the productive by taxes.
    Therefore the whole idea is completely impractical. Whereas if you make sure the guy on the sofa gets nothing for nothing, and only gets money for doing as much work, and as disagreeable, as he’d have to do in a real job, then all your graphs and lines and motivations work as you describe, just without the £400 per head deadweight.

    Except my graphs and lines and motivations work better than yours. Because my guy is not suddenly working 40 hours extra for a slightly bigger paycheck. He’s working the same for more money. Or a few hours extra. Or maybe even a few hours less. I have done nothing to screw up my guy’s motivations.

    PS I agree with Gavin – where did this idea of cold turkey welfare reform spring from ?

  • bobby b

    You’re all forgetting that the original equation consisted of more than just the numbers.

    Shame. Taking charity imposed shame upon you. You knew that you were, unearned, taking food off of someone else’s table.

    We got rid of shame, because it was icky. But shame used to be the price of “going on the county”, as it was called when I was young.

    Shame was a mighty inducement to get off of the dole as soon as you humanly could.

    So that guy on the couch collecting his $400 per week was also ashamed to be doing so. If he got a job and earned that $400, he was better off than he had been on the couch.

    And then we decided that he was “entitled” to that money and how he lay on his couch was none of our business.

    I recognize that the majority of people collecting benefits don’t deserve shame. I wouldn’t begrudge them what they get from us. But I know – personally – of too many of the other kind of people, people who feel no shame and think that anyone who expects them to feel shame is a Nazi. I have relatives who, in their forties, will never work again, but will live low-middle-income lives while they collect disability benefits because they’re drunks.

    The proportion of undeserving to deserving isn’t all that high – but it needs addressing. Those people need to experience shame.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “What if morally, and practically, free markets required welfare?”

    Free markets are mechanisms that work to meet human needs. If there’s a human need for a safety net, the free market will create one.

    The obvious instance that deals with most (probably not all) instances is insurance. We get insurance against misfortunes like our house burning down or getting burgled, or crashing the car into the back of a lawyer’s Porsche. We can get medical insurance against serious illness. Everyone pays in the premiums for the amount of cover they need, the more generous a scheme they want in the case of misfortune, the more expensive the premium. The market balances the cost against how much and how many people want it, and sets the price to optimise delivery for value.

    That, like I said, probably deals with most cases. There will still be a some for which it doesn’t work well. Insurance assumes misfortune strikes randomly, but some are more prone to unemployment than others. It’s like getting car insurance for a 17-year-old son. Those most likely to need it the most are least likely to be able to afford the premiums. Some people would be uninsured – do you say that’s their own fault and let them die? And there are a few who are disabled from birth and will never be able to work. You can have a scheme for prospective parents to insure their kids against that sort of misfortune, but again, it’s not the kid’s fault if the parents fail to do so. The rich with sufficient saving won’t need it, and so won’t pay in. There will be small print, and exceptions where they don’t pay out.

    There are no doubt many other options. You could send them back to school. You could deport them to countries where their skills are more useful, and more of a match for the local economy. You could reform the education system. You could invent AI robot workers, so people don’t need to work.

    The problem is that the free market is just, but it’s not merciful. Mercy is an expensive proposition, but people generally think the price is worth it.

    “Maybe I have missed it, but I am not aware of anyone seriously suggesting that current government welfare systems should be shut down cold turkey, with zero concern for current recipients.”

    It’s implicit in the objections to UBI. We’ve got welfare now, we want to get to no welfare at all, but we can’t jump there in one go. We have to make a number of smaller, incremental reforms. UBI is a step in the right direction. But objections are being raised to it on the grounds that it is still welfare, and any proposal involving welfare is (apparently) unacceptable.

    Nobody is claiming it is a purist free-market libertarian solution. It’s a compromise, an attempt to come up with a politically feasible mitigation that the non-libertarian rest of the world might accept. All that’s being claimed is that it is better, not that it is perfect.

    “The question is – would there be any more welfare recipients (and thus fewer productive labourers producing goods and services for society) if :

    (a) welfare recipients get money for nothing, rather than
    (b) welfare recipients get money for disagreeable, and perhaps pointless, labour”

    Your premise proposes that we want/expect these welfare recipients to do productive work, which implies there is productive work they are capable of and which needs doing. So why bring pointless labour into it?

    The issue is not with people who are capable of work and choose not to – even our current welfare system will refuse payment to people known to have turned down viable jobs. The issue is with people incapable of doing productive work, sufficient to meet their needs.

    I met a former steel-welder, used to work in the shipyards until they all got shut down. He’d got a job in a snack bar operating the till. Nice fellow. Hard working. Friendly, did his best for the customers. But he struggled with numbers, and he was always having to ask the other staff for help, always hitting the wrong buttons and having to re-do it, and incredibly, increeeediblyyyy slooooow. The customers liked him, but when the lunch hour rush hit, the queue wound out the door.

    He lasted about two months and then disappeared from the shop. I’ve no idea what happened to him. Maybe he found a better job he was more suited to – maybe he’s still struggling. But that’s what it’s like. He’d obviously come out of school 30 or 40 years ago with no qualifications, he’d found a manual labour job he could do, and worked hard at a job that would exhaust most effete office workers in less than a day. But the work was no longer required, and neither were his skills, and he had no others anyone wanted. He wasn’t lazy. He wasn’t unwilling. He was simply incapable.

    He was fairly newly redundant and still keen, but after a while such people lose hope. They’re trapped by the system. What jobs they’re capable of are forbidden by minimum wage laws. There’s little systematic education or training, and what there is either doesn’t work or isn’t in demand. If he gets a job it doesn’t pay enough to cover the extra expenses, after the loss of welfare. Eventually they give up. Some turn to drink, or drugs. Some turn to crime. Many are angry with the world, resentful, and when the world tells them it doesn’t care about their situation, they in turn cease to care about the costs that imposes on the world.

    About 60% of the prison population are functionally illiterate. About 40% of prisoners have been diagnosed with a mental illness, and 15-20% with a serious one. You can’t get much more pointless unplesantness than jail, so if the idea is that making life unpleasant for people stops them staying on welfare, prisons ought to work at getting people out of a life of crime. But nearly everyone who has studied prisons seriously says they don’t work. They make the problem worse. Ex-cons find it even harder to get jobs. There’s no effective education on how to live a normal life. They’re dropped into a snake-pit where violence and threats of violence are the basis of survival. They’re taught that if you want somebody to do something, the right way to do it is to threaten to make their life intensely unpleasant until they do what you want. That’s what we did to them. So that’s what they do to everyone else in their life. It’s logical.

    Everything is based on reciprocity. If you don’t care about them, or feel any sympathy, then they don’t have any reason to care about you. Where there’s no justice, there’s no shame. To fix the problem, you have to offer a feasible route out of unemployment. You have to fix the system, so the problem doesn’t arise.

    It’s a hard problem and I don’t know the answer. But we have to stop being simplistic about it.

  • neonsnake

    I’ve flirted with the idea of insurance many times in the past. It’s a perfectly libertarian solution to the problem. But I’ve never got past flirting and worked up the nerve to ask for its number, as it were, because:

    And there are a few who are disabled from birth and will never be able to work.

    always stops me dead in my tracks.

    And maybe they’ll be a time when charitable organisations can be 100% relied on for those people, but until then, my heart isn’t in arguing for removal of welfare completely (whether tomorrow, or in incremental stages)

    I’m sure I’m not alone in this anecdotal example: I have a family member who has been disabled since 14 (she’s 42) and is unable to work.

    Except…she would be able to work, if minimum wage laws didn’t prevent her from doing so. She’s part of a support group of people with the same illness, and I understand that most of them would work if they could, in order to retain some dignity.
    Some of them make a small amount of money through crafting and selling on places like Etsy. Those people have expressed concern that if they earn too much, they’ll lose benefits.

    I’d rather start with removing things like minimum wage laws than with removing welfare for people like that.

    For people like bobby b’s shameless spongers, I have a very different view; I find it difficult to understand how they could not feel a sense of shame or at least embarrassment (I also know a few people like that). Somehow, I’d like to maneuver to a position where few enough people are sponging, that the remaining people, the truly needy, don’t feel ashamed, if that makes some sense. I don’t know how possible that is; I guess there will always be some people who feel no shame. On balance, I’d rather not penalise the truly needy because of a few bad apples.

    I believe most people are like your steelworker friend – people want to work, they want to “better themselves”, they want to feel some pride in their achievements and life. Yes, there are outliers, but my sense is that those people are a very small percentage. Most people stuck on the welfare trap would, I believe, work if there was a way out, and would prefer not to be on welfare.

  • bobby b

    “For people like bobby b’s shameless spongers, I have a very different view; I find it difficult to understand how they could not feel a sense of shame or at least embarrassment . . . “

    They don’t feel shame because society has made shame a taboo – we’re not allowed to invoke shame anymore, because it implies . . . I don’t know, something that is triggering to the spongers, because they clearly are entitled to feel as worthy as people who perform work.

    I think I’m mirroring, to some extent, the post from a few days ago regarding Tim Worstell’s posting, which ends with these words: “So, if we’re not going to use the production of value for others as our status to seek then how much better or worse off are we all going to be with some other metric?”

    Woke society has anathematized using productive ability as a measure of human value, because it hurts the feelings of the emphatically non-productive. Thus, there can be no shame in being an undeserving leech.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    “And there are a few who are disabled from birth and will never be able to work.”

    Neonsnake — you are a good man. Your heart is in the right place. But if we demand that any system to help the unfortunate be 100% perfect, then we will never find any system acceptable.

    Certainly, the government systems we have right now are not perfect. Some deserving people today fall through the bureaucratic cracks — I know of people like that; you probably do too.

    We need to change our approach, so that people who need help get a temporary hand up, not a permanent hand out. And we do need to think hard about the best way to look after people who, through no fault of their own, can never become self-supporting. But it would be foolish to let the Perfect become the enemy of the Good (or in this case, of the Better).

  • neonsnake

    I agree, bobby. I’ve started a couple of replies today to you, and deleted them, because I’m muddled on my thinking on it.

    I’ve spent some time on the dole (about seven months, after the company I was contracting to in 2008 crashed and burned post the credit burst). I wouldn’t say I was ashamed, but I was extraordinarily embarrassed about it. I had to be persuaded by my Dad to sign on, I didn’t want the loss of dignity it implied.

    And yet, I recognise your story of your relatives, kinda. My brother is a bit like that, not to the same extent, but they (he and his wife) claim everything they can, and resent me for not needing to.

    Tim Worstell’s words resonated hard with me. I’m glad you said it, it’s why I deleted my replies, but there’s something in “Can I be proud of my achievements?”

    I think we should. I think we should be proud of our achievements, of our ability to provide for ourselves, or for “me and mine”, as I often put it.

    I’m not blind. I recognise “privilege”. I’m a tall, slim, “hairy chested” masculine white bloke. I have every privilege that exists, and I don’t deny those things. But I’ve also worked fucking hard all my life, and so did my Dad (more so than me!), to earn enough to put me through University.

    And so have you, from what I can tell.

    So, I struggle with people like your relatives, or my brother.

    I’m fiercely proud of what I’ve achieved. If push comes to shove, I can ride out No Deal Brexit, and keep my (immigrant) girlfriend, her sister and our dogs above water. I’m proud of my ability to live from a suit carrier, a duffel bag, and a few pieces of tech.

    You should be proud of your ability to build a pergola (I can’t). We both should be proud of our ability to say “uh, I think the transmission is fucked” on our cars, when it makes a funny noise when we change gears or put our foot down.

    I’m deliberately contrasting pride and shame.

    There’s this view that we can’t be proud of ourselves, and I don’t accept that.

    Your son is dating a girl that looks like Sofia Vergara? *claps* in English slang – “madlad”! (That’s a compliment. I have a fondness for Latin women. My head canon is that you and yours look like the Skarsgaards)

    Somewhere, there’s something about pride, which Tim Worstell expresses well. If not that, then what, should we be proud of?

    I’m unclear on how to balance “shame”, when appropriate (my brother, your relatives), with “demonising” (my other family member, a cousin, with an invisible illness).

    I default to my cousin.

  • Neonsnake

    you are a good man. Your heart is in the right place.

    As are you. I’d love a beer and a chance to talk it through. (Honestly, bruv, you’d be a lot more pro-feminist if you were dating a girl from South America)

    And I draw a harsh difference, rightly or wrongly (wrongly, of course!) between people I want a beer with, and people I want “thirty minutes, a pair of Tonfa, and diplomatic immunity” with. Because, I’m human.

    🙂

    “Bruv”, incidently, is a term of endearment for the lower classes of the Thames Estuary in the UK.

  • neonsnake

    PS I agree with Gavin – where did this idea of cold turkey welfare reform spring from ?

    Lee, it’s possible I’ve misinterpreted other people’s views, in which case, I’m wrong and that’s fine.

    I’m unsure that that’s the purist view though. The OP was clear – eradicate welfare and privatise. Paul Mark’s view is similar – eradicate welfare and privatise.

    Those are the views I’m addressing. They’re, to me, obviously nonsense.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    “you’d be a lot more pro-feminist if you were dating a girl from South America”

    Lucky guy! As it happens, I am pro-feminist. To steal someone else’s line, I love the Woman’s Movement — especially seen from behind. 🙂

    To be more serious, and to steal yet another person’s line — ‘People are people’. No gender has a monopoly on good or bad. I am old enough to remember when feminists claimed that the world would be a better place if women had more power. After Merkel, May, & Hillary Clinton, we don’t hear much of that kind of talk any more.

    Personally, one of the best bosses I have ever had was a thirty-something Muslim Arab lady — overwhelmingly intelligent, very focused on getting the work done and getting it done right, and caring towards her staff. One of the least pleasant experiences of my life was having to deal with a 40+ white American woman who was the most back-stabbing, self-promoting, political, bitchy creature I have ever had the misfortune to work with. Women can be great, and women can be awful — just the same as men.

    OK, I have gone off topic. Shoot me.

  • Lee Moore

    They don’t feel shame because society has made shame a taboo – we’re not allowed to invoke shame anymore, because it implies . . . I don’t know, something that is triggering to the spongers, because they clearly are entitled to feel as worthy as people who perform work.

    That’s the cynical way of putting it. The rosier, sweeter natured way of putting it is that we are all exceptionally good at seeing ourselves in a good light. Ok not all – some people insist on seeing themselves in a bad light all the time, and poor them. But most people are not Swedish at heart.

    Thus if something goes wrong and some folk are clamouring that it was my fault and some are clamouring that it wasn’t (whether “the government was to blame”, “the system was to blame”, “the company was to blame”, “the Children of Israel were to blame”, “no one is to blame”, whatever) I (and most non Swedes) are going to have some sympathy with the “not really your fault” crowd. Mistakes were made.

    And very muchly also with the “government handout vs. contributory benefits” story. The welfare designers have designed the system quite well from their point of view. Lots of people who are on welfare do not think they are on welfare, they think they are reaping the benefits of the contributions they have paid in against a rainy day. This is at it’s most obvious when it comes to pensioners, 99% of whom would be shocked and appalled if you called them welfare recipients to their face. And not quite 99% of whom, but quite a large majority of them, are fine folk still possessed of a functioning sense of shame. They don’t feel shame because they don’t think their circumstances merit it. But in the cold hard world of arithmetic, they’re drawing welfare. Very few pensioners have paid contributions (including their employers comtributions) sufficient to actuarially fund their pensions. It’s just a Ponzi scheme.

    So the way you damp the ordinarily moral human’s sense of shame is to adjust the focus so that they do not see themselves as behaving shamefully. It’s perfectly true that I could go and hold down a job at the Post Office counter, despite my slightly twingey back, but I am a qualified ballet teacher and I’m within my rights to hang on till there’s a ballet teaching job available and until my back gets better. Anyone can do the PO job, but I have been trained to provide higher value services. I’m just waiting for the opportunity.

    Jordan Peterson has a good spiel in one of his psychology lectures about Ordinary Men – a tale of ordinary German policemen sent to Poland to help solve that probem that needed solving finally. They start out as perfectly normal policemen from perfectly normal beats in Germany and they finish up shooting old women in the head. How ? Because they have been moved into an environment where that is the normal and expected thing to do, and their mates are doing it too (who are doing it because their mates are doing it too.)

    The human mind is a wonderful instrument. It is prejudiced in favour of conforming with the zeitgeist, as it should be, since zeitgeist iconoclasts are liable to finish up swiftly dead most of the time.

  • bobby b

    “But most people are not Swedish at heart.”

    Being partly of that make and model, I understand how the lack of sunlight for twenty hours of each day can affect one’s outlook on . . . everything. Chronic Seasonal Affective Disorder does that. So, yeah, I think such people and their descendants are harder on themselves than most others. But I count it as one of our strengths. 😉

    I think we’d all be better off if more people were harder on themselves. The current consensus calls for us to go the other direction – to excuse ourselves for every failing. I think we end up with a world full of self-entitled weenies that way.

    But it’s probably my fault.

  • Mr Ed

    I would characterise one of the Left’s current tactics as to use the label of ‘mental illness’ for what is whingeing self-pity.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I would characterise one of the Left’s current tactics as to use the label of ‘mental illness’ for what is whingeing self-pity.”

    What, like “man flu”?

    Exaggerating misfortune out of “whingeing self-pity” is one of everyone’s eternal tactics. The way some of us talk, you’d think we were all living in the Stalinist USSR and on the verge of being sent to the Gulag. It’s a universal of human psychology, and not exclusively observed on the left.

    I think that in the past there has been a lot of social pressure not to admit to mental illness, or even recognise it for what it is, that has done damage to people. A lot of that was likely because of the ‘treatment’ handed out to those known as mad. Bedlam was a horror, and the modern-day system doesn’t have a good reputation either. It’s genuinely more common than people think. But it is true that the less severe cases people used to hide are often conditions that people can easily live with. Just as physical illnesses range in severity, from colds to ebola to man-flu, so do mental ones.

    If you get a random bunch of people to run a foot race, the ones who come last will naturally tend to contain a disproportionate number of the genuinely sick and lame. Those with poor eyesight or poor hearing tend to come last in tests of observation. Why should it be a surprise that people with mental infirmities should appear more often in those who came last in life?

    Ah, but if the reason for some people coming last is genuine, and not laziness or moral degeneracy as our comfortable prejudices insist, it breaks the self-justifications we use to excuse our not caring. It’s a self-defence mechanism. We can’t be callous to people we feel empathy with, so we have to find some way to turn the empathy off. Our moral system only applies to people in our own tribe – those we consider ‘good people’ or ‘one of us’. And so we tell ourselves justifying stories about ‘the other’ – that they bake the blood of infants into matzos, that they’re all privileged racist sexist colonialist rapists, that they colluded with Russia to bias an election, that they do deals with the devil to wreck ships at sea and cause famines and cause us illness by sticking pins in dolls, that they secretly rule the world, and are plotting our destruction.

    Only if we can manage to turn our empathy off will we be able to say what we say and do what we do without any feelings of shame. That’s how everyone does it.

    Human psychology is very interesting, isn’t it?

  • Lee Moore

    but if the reason for some people coming last is genuine, and not laziness or moral degeneracy

    Who doubts this ? The question is – can we readily distinguish between the genuinely helpless, and the rest ? A subset of which question being – of the genuinely helpless, who has arrived at that position through sheer unavoidable misfortune, and who has brewed their own misfortune ?

    If the answers to these questions were obvious, we should have no difficulty in identifying who should be treated with unadulterated compassion, and who should be treated with compassion unashamedly adulterated by a portfolio of sticks and carrots.

    But back on Planet Earth it’s not so easy. There are undoubtedly clearly identifiable folk who are running last and there’s nothing they can do, or could have done differently in the past, to change that. But there are also lots of people whose responsibility for their own misfortunes is hard to gauge. The person in the best position to gauge responsibity for current, or future, misfortune, is the person himself. Hence the proposition that it is a good idea to give a man every incentive to dig himself out of current or future holes. On which I believe we agree – my proposals for achieving this however are arithmetically feasible whereas yours are not.

    it breaks the self-justifications we use to excuse our not caring

    Who is the “our” of which you speak ? It’s got nothing to do with caring, it has to do with practicality. If you subsidise helplessness, you will get more of it. Is it “caring” to subsidise helplessness ? Does subsidising people who are pretending to be disabled help those who are actually disabled ? Does it even help the pretenders in the longer term ?

    We all have lots of personal experience with lazy folk, slackers, do the minimum types. For they populate the workplace as well as the welfare rolls. It is just that operating at 35% they can just about produce enough to stay employed. Though of course it is from this cohort that the future “helpless” are formed. 45 years old, made redundant from a job I’ve been half doing for twenty years, can’t get a new job. Not my fault.

    It’s not a matter of caring. It’s a matter of not dozing off into a fantasy. I know these people. They are my people. We do the minimum to get by and when misfortune strikes, it’s not our fault. Life has been cruel to us. (This btw is just about the textbook definition of being low on the personality trait of conscientiousness. Which may be a trait that is not much within our control. But whether it is or not, the practical solution to helping such folk is not to weep and sympathise and hand out fivers for nowt, but to provide a ladder with sticks at the bottom and carrots at the top.)

    You make your own luck is an exaggeration. Sometimes good luck is showered on you undeserved. Sometimes bad. But quite a lot of luck is self manufactured. “Well Mr Longhurst” said Gary Player, a little annoyed at the said Mr Longhurst’s suggestion that he’d holed a number of lucky putts,”I find the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

  • but if the reason for some people coming last is genuine, and not laziness or moral degeneracy (Nullius in Verba, September 17, 2019 at 8:05 am)

    Who doubts this ? The question is – can we readily distinguish between the genuinely helpless, and the rest ? (Lee Moore, September 17, 2019 at 9:03 am

    An Oliver Wendell Homes’ judgement (using the example of a man born naturally clumsy) asserts that “the courts of heaven” will make this distinction but “the courts of earth” must not. The supreme court judge accepted it would be a higher and more equitable form of judgement – but one no earthly court can make, and destructive of justice, not adding to it, if it tried.

    In private life, each of us freely makes such judgements of people we know – and are sometimes right, sometimes wrong, on either side of the question. A coercive earthly court must do what is within its competence, not attempt what is not.

    Of course, some who argue this will, as Nullius charges, use it in whole or in part as an excuse for withholding charity they could afford, even as others fully understand it and are the more effectively charitable thereby. But no court can judge who is wholly or partly in which of those groups either, and when we privately make our own free assessments, we will be sometimes right and sometimes wrong.

  • Lee Moore

    If earthly legislatures enact welfare systems, earthly courts are going to have to take a stab at adjudicating disputed claims.

    As to Oliver Wendell H’s views – not a fellow I’m inclined to take too seriously – I’m not quite sure whether he’s attempting to disqualify earthly courts from moral judgements or merely remarking upon the unfathomable complexity of reality.

    1. Identifying who is helpless (or who falls within the meaning of some welfarish law) seems to belong to the world of earthly judgements. Sure there will be lots and lots of difficult cases, but that depends on the complexity of the lawmakers’ schemes.

    2. Identifying how someone came to be helpless (etc), including what might have been done to prevent it, also belongs to the earthly realm, but in many, almost certainly most, cases it will not be computable. Best not to offer the judiciary the opportunity to exercise their discretion – a much overused muscle.

    3. As to moral blame for someone being helpless, yes that’s beyond the remit of earthly courts (though they often see fit to offer moral judgements in criminal cases.)

    All in all, if you’re going to have the State involved in welfare, I suggest that the best approach is to use clear limited categories, with the minimum of judicial discretion, and unlavish benefits, even at the risk of hard cases, underinclusivity and accusations of Scroogeyness. Let the holes be filled by non litigatable charity.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I’m not quite sure whether he’s attempting to disqualify earthly courts from moral judgements or merely remarking upon the unfathomable complexity of reality.”

    I think the intention is that Earthly courts should rule only on the basis of proven objective facts in evidence, not on the basis of third-party beliefs about hidden root causes, unexercised capabilities, and unspoken intentions it would require an omniscient mind-reader to confirm or refute.

    That more or less agrees with your second point. Personally, I consider your third point to fall in the same category – I see no problem in principle with courts dealing in moral blame, but the same issue arises in regard to unknowable evidence. Presumed innocent until proven guilty, and “all presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously, for the law holds that it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

  • Nullius in Verba

    Actually, having just looked the quote up, I find Wendell-Holmes to be saying something rather more complex, and not so easily summarised. He’s not disqualifying Earthly courts at all, but saying they’re permitted to make ‘reasonable’ assumptions about such matters. It’s worth a look, I think.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2449/2449-h/2449-h.htm

  • neonsnake

    I suggest that the best approach is to use clear limited categories, with the minimum of judicial discretion

    I very broadly agree, especially the bit about minimum discretion. If I had my (utopian) way, it would be zero discretion (which leads back to UBI).

    I think it depends on what angle you’re approaching it from.

    I’m very much in a stance of avoiding the welfare trap, and also very much in the stance of not throwing people under the bus who are genuine edge cases (ie. Properly cannot work).

    But I recognise that I have personal reasons for that stance, of course.

    Even if, say, 30% of people claiming disability benefits are fraudulent (which is a very high estimate), I’d rather subsidise those people than remove the subsidies from the 70% who are not. Call it an inverse of Blackstone, if you like (and I rather think that 1 fraudulent person to 9 genuine is closer to the truth). We’d all rather the percentage is zero, but: utopia. I’ll accept that we fund the “shameless spongers” if the options are binary.

    And then, I also hold firm that most (not all) people want to work. If for nothing else than more money to get better toys and have nicer holidays, like they see on Instagram.

    Or, less cynically, to give their kids a better life.

    That’s where something like UBI again has its benefits, since it rewards those first steps – the post office job – without making it more expensive, or a waste of time, to go and a get an entry-level job.

    There’s something in the shame Vs pride thing, which is definitely within scope, but I’m still not clear in my own head about it, to be absolutely honest.

    I’ve this vague concept that the post office job shouldn’t be seen as a step down for the ballet teacher, something to be ashamed of doing while you’re waiting for the “better” job to come along. At the same time, there’s something about society at the moment not letting you take pride in your achievements – the whole: you only got that job because you’re white, male, straight etc.

    Or, if you’re so inclined in your thinking, you only got that job because you’re the diversity hire. Whichever way round, it doesn’t matter, we should (I think) celebrate success and stop telling people they don’t deserve it.

    And I think that’s the carrot to the “shame” stick.

    There is part of me, though, that really wants to get away from this thing of demonising welfare recipients (this is where my thoughts are a bit muddled). I’m really uncomfortable with the hotlines we have for reporting benefit fraud, and the way that we (in the UK) treat people on benefits. I think that’s why I lean in to the carrot of pride, rather than the stick of “shame”.

    Those last couple of paragraphs aren’t well articulated (even by my standards), for which I apologise 🙂

  • neonsnake

    Of course, the other thing is that the very last thing on my list titled “Neonsnake’s Very Important List Of Things to Do when I Take Over The World” is ending welfare for poor people.

    😛

    Let’s keep our priorities in order. Remove welfare from corporations first, and work our way down from there.

    Remove oppressive regulations, Kafka-esque means-testing (and complex administrative hoops etc) from the poorest/most vulnerable first, and work our way up from there.

    Simples!

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