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Big Brother and Denmark

Regular readers of this blog know that politically, the cause for liberty cuts through conventional categories. Over at Wired magazine, which in my view has tilted more Left in recent years and seems to have a lot of “green” material in it these days, it occasionally comes up with an article that is worth reading.

Here’s one on the use of AI technology to track alleged welfare cheats in Denmark. Denmark is one of those supposedly happy, social democratic, tax-and-spend places that the dimmer sort Western politicians, such as US Democrats, like to wax lyrical over. Well, take a look at this:

Denmark isn’t alone in turning to algorithms amid political pressure to crack down on welfare fraud. France adopted the technology in 2010, the Netherlands in 2013, Ireland in 2016, Spain in 2018, Poland in 2021, and Italy in 2022. But it’s the Netherlands that has provided the clearest warning against technological overreach. In 2021, a childcare benefits scandal, in which 20,000 families were wrongly accused of fraud, led to the resignation of the entire Dutch government. It came after officials interpreted small errors, such as a missing signature, as evidence of fraud, and forced welfare recipients to pay back thousands of euros they’d received as benefits payments.

7 comments to Big Brother and Denmark

  • which in my view has tilted more Left in recent years and seems to have a lot of “green” material in it these days

    Wired has been a dreary green mainstream left publication for years, it’s once splendid glory days long gone now.

  • Fraser Orr

    You’ll rarely hear me supportive of government action, but the amount of fraud rampant in government programs, including welfare, is surely something they should be making every effort to fix and catch. And surely the fact that some people got accused of cheating unfairly, where government mistakes seriously damaged innocent people’s lives, absolutely should lead to the resignation of the government. It is a curious black sheep of an article where the government seems to have done things right for a change.

    You can argue all you like as to whether the government is the right mechanism for charitable support of the destitute and indigent, but insofar as it is the mechanism, it is only right that it protects the tax payer from fraud.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Fraser Orr, I take your point, but the corollary is that once a country lets a significant proportion of its people become dependent on the state, mass surveillance by the state becomes almost inevitable. As the Wired article says, “… preventing error and fraud is important to maintain trust in the welfare state.”

    The Wired article also mentions the Dutch childcare benefits scandal, as an awful warning to the Danes. What was particularly shocking about that was the way that as soon as they had a machine doing things for them, the Dutch authorities seemed delighted to offload the responsibility for judging individual cases onto the algorithm:

    “In many of these cases, the CAF employed collective punishment based on the “80–20 principle” (80% fraud, 20% innocent; an inversion of the usual principle).[19] Quantitative evidence for this presumption was lacking from the Tax and Customs Administration, and it turned out to be virtually impossible for innocent parents to reverse decisions.”

    “Another group of approximately 8,000 parents fell afoul of strict administrative policies, in which a small mistake (e.g. a missing signature or an undeclared change in income) could lead to a full clawback of the childcare benefit.”

  • Barbarus

    Wow, this really does work out nicely for the power-mad bureaucrat types, doesn’t it?

    – tax everyone so heavily that all families need to be dual income

    – which greatly increases the number of people paying the taxes

    – and which forces all the children into state controlled child care

    – which can only be afforded with state provided childcare benefits

    – which can be clawed back for the slightest paperwork error, i.e. at a bureaucrat’s whim

    – and which justifies mass surveillance to prevent fraud

    – all of which justifies the ruinous taxation we started with …

  • Paul Marks

    Some taxes are very high in Denmark – such as Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax.

    But other taxes do not exist at all there – for example Denmark does not have employee or employer “National Insurance” (i.e. Payroll Tax).

    Overall taxes in Denmark are a bit higher than Britain – but not as much higher as one might think.

    However, Johnathan Pearce is correct – if the government is going to give you lots of stuff (income support, health care, old age support…), then the government is going to have to control things and keep everyone under observation.

    Otherwise we get a farcical situation, as in Britain and the United States, of government funded health care, Food Stamps, and all the rest of it, going to illegal migrants and criminal gangs (but I repeat myself).

    The Danish Social Democrats do not want Copenhagn turning into London, or even worse, New York – but neither does any other party in Denmark (what person would?).

    Is a cradle-to-crave welfare-state compatible, in the long term, with civil liberties? Of course it is not – the German “Cameralists” understand that as long ago as the 1700s, which is why they made (in their writings) a “welfare state” part of a “police state” – you can not have the first without the second.

    Unless you want the chaos and bankruptcy of places such as New York and Chicago – and these places are going to a lot worse.

    Is the “Danish model” sustainable in the long term? No – it is not. But if you want a welfare state then what the Danes do (immigration controls and close observation of the population) is the way to keep it for as long as it can be kept.

    They are quite ruthless in their quiet way – for example the Danish Covid lockdown was ended (much sooner than the British one was ended) not because the Danish government grasped that the lockdown was medically useless (which it was) – but because they grasped how much money it was costing, and realised that if they kept going with the lockdown, Denmark would go bust.

    Whereas the “free market” British government just write a blank cheque for a lockdown that lasted for months because, if Dominic Cummings (yes a viper – but he may be telling the truth on this) is to believed, because Mr William “Bill” Gates and the rest of the accused “international community” told the British bureaucracy (and Mr Cummings himself) that an insane Covid lockdown would be a good idea.

    The international economy is at its peak right now – over time it is going to get worse (worse – not better).

    Look at the Danish budget position and compare it to the British and American budget position.

    Look who has the vast fiscal deficits – and who has a balanced budget.

    Part of the reason for that is calling off the Covid lockdown when they realised how much it was costing.

  • Steven R

    If that had happened in the US, if the Republicans were in control, the Dems would make all the political hay they could about how the Repubs were deliberately going after the poor on welfare with an unauthorized and illegal program until the following week when some new story would take the public’s attention. If the Dems were in control, the story wouldn’t break until a Friday afternoon and be buried by Monday and they would still blame the Republicans somehow.

    In neither case would the GOP leadership do anything.

    Neither side would be accountable and forget about resigning in shame or atonement or whatever.

    But that’s politics in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, because our politics is just another spectator sport with teams and fans.

  • 13times

    Wired is soaked in leftist rhetoric from AI tech editorials to near-woke Social Justice nonsense. For years the AI tech editorial content read like Sapronos-level pump and dump stock jobbing larded with fanboi marketing fiction; algorithms are god-sent as long as the end product is aimed at the proper targets – specifically – not their left wing benefactors and readership.

    According to Wired the latest ChatBot and ArtBot builds are the most amazing thing.. ever! I read that bit in their latest hard copy magazine.

    Now the same fanboi editorial board harbor doubts regarding the trustworthiness of artificial intelligence and sounds the alarm of its use by government agencies when those government agencies attempt to reduce fraud in a left wing protected social justice “space.” The marketing and fanboyism suddenly fade into background noise. Producers and coders are possibly evil. The benefits of AI dredge-bots running rampant across the internet is suddenly a moral and legal question mark.

    The ethics are fungible.