Why welfare is just not cricket

Tonight is the second part of a BBC series called “Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits”. I didn’t know about the program in time to see part one, and am probably not alone, so hopefully this post will sever to alert readers to it. It’s on tonight 11th July at 9.00pm. On the program Taxpayers are to be pitched against welfare claimants to decide how much welfare is enough welfare. The titular “Nick and Margaret” are two of the people from the Apprentice which would appear to give the taxpayers a home advantage, but – without having seen a single second of the program – I can already predict that they have lost. I want to explain why that is genuinely sad news.

What kind of thinking leads to people to support welfare? People complain that the “freedom to starve to death” is no freedom at all. What those people desire is the opposite, the “freedom to never starve to death” but that freedom that is not available to anyone. It is part of the nature of a living being that it must eat eventually or it’s life processes will fade out and come to a halt. The freedom that is possible, and which is often denied us, is the freedom to act in any way the individual desires to try to feed itself. Of course, success is not guaranteed, such a guarantee would amount to the same impossible freedom to never starve.

What is really being asked for here is the freedom “to never have been born”, for it is freedom from the imposition of having been born that the welfare claimant and their liberal supporters seek when they ask for freedom from their nature as a living thing. They ask for freedom from the need – shared by every animal – to feed itself.

I do believe there are some “lazy” welfare claimants who talk themselves out of work because it is simply not necessary for them. I don’t want to rag on them, where it is not the fault of systemic failures, their problem is essentially psychological. People allow themselves to stay in an unhealthy place, but that is an easy mistake to make. Objectivists call that category of mistake a moral failing – a failure to make good long term decisions – but it is mostly an individual failing and not of the same scale as what I want to discuss. What I have a genuine problem with is the political system set up to allow claimants – often with no controls, and often called an “entitlement” – to live at the expense of the rich.

In practice it is the middle class that pay the bulk of taxes and pay for all the welfare bills. Nick and Margaret are doing them a disservice by fronting the show as rich business people, but let’s not get distracted by that. The basic premise and is what I have a problem with: the premise that it is okay to take away wealth from the successful to give it to any claimant so that they can feed themselves. This gives the claimant freedom from starvation at the expense of the richer persons’ right to life, and to freedom of action. I think this is disastrous economically, creating the same unemployment it is supposed to fight – but I don’t actually have a massive problem with that either. That is an error of knowledge. The problem that really exercises me is that the right to life – to ownership, control and enjoyment of precious irreplaceable hours – is thwarted and lives taken away.

On average, nearly half of all working days in the UK are taken away on this premise. Nobody gives those lives back to the tax payer. Mises proved this would not be possible, even if attempted. We work at the optimal time of day and dedicate “working days” to the pursuit of work. We call them “working days” for that reason; they are not days dedicated to any other purpose and for half of the time those dedicated days are diverted to deal with the essentially psychological problems of people we don’t have the time to go and meet. In this way what is taken is the very best of people’s time. Each working day is a day not spent at rest. Every working day is a day not spent with family, not spent pursuing the arts, not thinking about spiritual matters, nor trading – at the optimal time of day – with others in pursuit of these kinds of goal. It is the very best, most useful parts of somebody’s life that welfare recipients take away. Although the quantities are high, they are not important – it’s simply not okay to take away someone’s life, not even a little bit of it.

Simon Gibbs

Simon is a London based IT contractor and the proprietor of Libertarian Home. Working with logic and cause-and-effect each day he was naturally attracted to nerdy libertarianism and later to the benevolent logic of Objectivism. Find him on Google+ 

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  21 comments for “Why welfare is just not cricket

  1. Dom
    Jul 11, 2013 at 9:27 am

    First episode is tonight Thursday 11th at 9pm on BBC1 … just to correct the wrong date above. Like what you say btw.

  2. Paul Marks
    Jul 12, 2013 at 7:50 am

    At the start of the 20th century about 1% of the population were dependent on government welfare (one third of them in Workhouses – the other two thirds on “out relief”).

    What proportion of the old, sick and poor are now dependent on government? Remember there were no such things as the general government old age pension as the start of the 20th century.

    With a vastly richer economy a far smaller proportion of people should be dependent on government – in fact a vastly greater proportion of people are dependent on government.

    Something has gone wrong.

    • Stephen
      Jul 29, 2013 at 12:47 pm

      “What proportion of the old, sick and poor are now dependent on government? Remember there were no such things as the general government old age pension as the start of the 20th century”

      Life expectancy has risen somewhat since 1900. According to a health researcher at the University of Lancaster, life expectancy has risen from 46 to 77 in men and 50 to 81 in women. Many of those in receipt of long term disability benefits would not have survived a generation ago. That is the reason why we have more state pensioners today and more on sickness benefits.

      It has become usual for conservatives to spin this as some kind of moral dereliction of duty and that families that once would have looked after elderly people no longer do so. Although there is a small grain of truth in the claim that fewer people now look after the “Aged P”, the reasons have little to do with morality or that other shibboleth of conservatism “responsibility”, but demographic changes, which mean that people move for work and will not be co-located with aged parents. Also, families simply do not have the resources to look after an elderly person for perhaps 20 or 30 years. As usual, it is the very operations of the bourgeois liberal capitalist state that bring about these changes.

      • Jul 29, 2013 at 2:34 pm

        You can’t say pople are not less responsible and they just moved away. Those things are mutually exclusive opposites. Taking responsibility for aging parents would not normally include moving away from them, or else being prepared to travel the long distances and expenses inovled in fulfilling responsibilies remotely.

        Likewise increased life expectancy should result in greater savings for the longer term, perhaps between generations, but inflation and inheritence tax work against those options.

        • Stephen
          Jul 29, 2013 at 3:44 pm

          “You can’t say pople are not less responsible and they just moved away. Those things are mutually exclusive opposites”

          In the messy real world, far away from libertarian theories, they are not mutually exclusive. People do not “just” move away. They move away for specific economic reasons that conservative libertarians would be quick to commend in other circumstances.

          “Taking responsibility for aging parents would not normally include moving away from them”

          So does that mean you would cheerfully pay out of work benefits to someone who chose to look after his parents rather than move away to get a job?

  3. RogerC
    Jul 15, 2013 at 11:29 am

    I saw this article (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23306092) today and was horrified. I spent most of my working life earning less than the figures quoted as the new cap. Most of the people in the office I presently work in earn less than that much.

    I used to think “trapped in welfare” was just a synonym for “too lazy to get off welfare”, but if you’re claiming £350 per week in benefits and have no real skills, you’re simply not going to be able to find a (legal) job that will be worth it to you.

    • Stephen
      Jul 29, 2013 at 12:35 pm

      According to the government’s own figures, there are about 67,000 households that are likely to be affected by this cap and only 5 households that got £100,000 or more. The reasons for these figures is primarily Housing Benefit which is paid because no government has grasped the nettle of providing sufficient stocks of housing. Selling off the best of the council houses into private hands wasn’t a good idea either. But was an excellent way of buying votes.

      To present this as getting £350 a week as spending money is fundamentally dishonest. This money goes to private sector landlords, who are getting rich sucking off the public teat.

      If libertarians were serious about reducing the benefit bill then they would support a new land value tax to incentivize land-owners to redevelop under-utilized brownfield sites for housing, an aggressive public house building programme and the compelling of businesses to pay a living wage. 80% of new Housing Benefit claims are paid to those in work, which means that I as a tax-payer am directly subsidizing the payroll of private sector businesses that choose not pay their employees enough to live on.

      • Jul 29, 2013 at 2:38 pm

        I am not RogerC, but you seem to have confused the word “spent” as in the passage of time with “spent” as in disposing of money in consideration for goods. RogerC has not confused £350 spending money, he has identified it as unearned.

        I noticed you have not addressed the OP, and have not attempted to justify the taking away of a persons life, for another. You have only said that we only take a little bit of people’s lives away, and we should take away more for various projects that you favour. That is not OK, as I said in the OP.

        • Stephen
          Jul 29, 2013 at 3:58 pm

          “RogerC has not confused £350 spending money, he has identified it as unearned”

          It is certainly unearned by the private landlord, who receives most of it. The question is, whether you want to address the root causes of these high housing benefit claims, which is the scarcity of housing and poor pay. Since you have ignored those points in my post I must conclude that you are not.

          “have not attempted to justify the taking away of a persons life, for another”

          I am afraid you will have to translate that into non-libertarian for me. Seriously I have no idea what you are talking about. I was talking about tax payers money being used to subsidize the payroll of poor paying employers.

          • Jul 30, 2013 at 7:39 am

            Stephen, I’ve read your comment 3 times, in full, and noticed two things that stand out:

            – statements that you have no idea what I’m talking about, despite my words deliberately echoing the OP, which you evidently have not read.
            – an expectation and a challenge that I must say and discuss certain things otherwise certain facts about me become true, facts you seem to feel reflect badly on me. These are made right above a ping back that is at least relevant to what you are asking me to say, if not comprehensively answering you.

            As a result, I have no strong desire to construct a more comprehensive reply, and since I’ve better things to do, I will choose not to.

  4. Stephen
    Jul 30, 2013 at 8:03 am

    “As a result, I have no strong desire to construct a more comprehensive reply, and since I’ve better things to do, I will choose not to”

    That suits me fine. You chose to respond to me in the first place yet you are ill-disposed to address any of the points I made.

    • Jul 30, 2013 at 10:10 am

      Oh this isn’t going to be good for me…

      The point is, I already addressed your points. I do share your concern about housing subsidies increasing housing prices (with the money flowing to the landlords). That is a good reason to end the subsidies, or enforce rules that make the payments short-lived so as to reduce the impact on long term prices.

      That’s not the policy you suggest. You simply made a call to take more unearned money from businesses and tax-payers which is a point the entire OP was dedicated to addressing. You have not argued against the OP, at all. Which means you are off-topic as well as being snarky.

      You asked would I “cheerfully pay out of work benefits to someone who chose to look after his parents rather than move away to get a job”. No I would not, not cheerfully. If responsibility means anything it means making choices that fulfil the responsibility. Also, those stolen working days I mention in the still-unread OP would be very useful in helpling to support aging parents, would they not?

      I’ll make one additional point that I alluded to indirectly above:

      You seem to ignore the effect of inflation on house prices. Houses are not priced in large numbers of pounds. Pounds are priced in small numbers of houses, and the number of houses a pound is worth is dropping. This forces the sterling price of houses upwards. People mistake this for a genuine rise in value, which is a vicous upward spiral. Inflation also means it’s difficult to save to afford houses. People without hard assets, relying on income or benefits, are constantly pushed down by money-supply inflation. Inflation is one of the recurring themes on the blog.

      See also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffEMG_FjRbk

  5. Paul Marks
    Jul 30, 2013 at 10:29 am

    What Stephen calls “poor pay” is the alternative to HIGHER UNEMPLOYMENT (and I do not see how not being employed in a job that “would pay”, if it existed, X amount more money – benefits the poor).

    However, high rents are indeed the result of government policy (as are high house prices).

    If government did not subsidise rents (via “Housing Benefit”) rents would crash – any economist since David Ricardo should be explain why this is so (not that I am endorsing the many errors that David Ricardo made in economics, indeed on balance he may have done more harm than good).

    And if the government did not prop up the housing market (with its monetary policy) house prices would crash also.

  6. Paul Marks
    Jul 30, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Stephen – I asked what proportion of people are dependent on government, you may exclude people over 65 if you wish (although most old people were NOT dependent on government at the start of the 20th century in Britain) – the rise in government dependency is still terrible (the exact opposite of what should be happening as an economy advances).

    You do not seem to understand that government has no resources of its own (government produces nothing) – a few hangers on may depend on government for centuries, but if the GENERAL POPULATION become dependent upon government, then the “writing is on the wall”.

    The is nothing compassionate about taxing people into the ground (telling them the money is for “insurance”) where their are no “trust funds” (or other such), It is all a Ponzi scheme.

    Even as recently as the early 1960s it was a rare thing for a person of working age (and wages were much LOWER then than they are now) to be dependent on government benefits (although most old people were dependent by that time).

    Now it is becoming the norm – this, Stephen, is not a “functional” society – it is radically dysfunctional.

    This is not for the benefit of the poor – indeed they (including me – for I AM POOR) will be hurt the most when this economy (when this society) collapses.

  7. Fazer Eyes
    Aug 2, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    I am not here to agree with Stephen and his woolly “Liberal” thinking, but I do think Right Libertarian have a blind spot on in this area.

    People earn a living through access to the means of production. The vast majority of people do not have direct access to means of production and rely on selling their labour to the owners of the means of production. The problem is that there is a shrinking market for labour due to technological displacement. This is a fact, you should know Simon you are in technology, Moore’s Law and all that fun stuff.

    There is going to need to be some kind of redistribution if you don’t want a Marxist revolution and I think Libertarians should be looking to ideas like a land value tax (land is not the product of one’s Labour and therefore exclusive use is suitable for taxation) and a citizens income.

    It’s time for some pragmatism.

  8. Paul Marks
    Aug 2, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    Pragmatism is vile – false in philosophy (William James) and false (socialism by the instalment plan) in politics.

    There is no such thing as a “right libertarian” – there are just libertarians and our enemies, the Social Justice crowd. That some of the Social Justice crowd call themselves “left libertarians” does not make them libertarians (any more me saying I am six feet six inches tall and have a full head of hair, stops me being really a short bald man).

    A “left libertarian” is a collectivist – they are just collectivists who lie about what they are.

    As for the stuff about “means of production”

    Some of the largest manufacturing enterprises were founded by people who started out dirt poor (and not just in the distant past – Mr Huntsman, of Huntsman Chemicals, was born in a house made of cardboard).

    “Land Value Tax” (Henry George – refuted by Frank Fetter more than a century ago).

    “Citizens Income” (worse than Henry George – even he did not believe in the state giving people money for nothing).

    Interventionism does not prevent Marxist Revolutions.

    On the contrary, interventionism (by destroying the economy) plays into the hands of the Marxists.

    A fact I suspect that “left libertarians” know only too well.

    P.S, I have not bothered to reply to the Ned Ludd “technological displacement of labour” stuff. T,.S. Ashton did that more than 60 years ago.

  9. Fazer Eyes
    Aug 2, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    haha, I did enjoy that Simon, very good.

    I won’t take time to make a proper response as it seems you have it all figured out. I can read refutation after refutation on all sides of an argument until the cows come home, at the end of the day I have to go with what makes sense to me. “Reading is not thinking” as Henry Hazlitt wrote = ).

    Just remember this conversation, within our lifetimes you may very well see these things come to pass, and maybe you will think back to this moment = ).

    Happy trails.

    • Aug 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      I’m confused. Perhaps you meant Paul has it worked out.
      What things?

      • Fazer Eyes
        Aug 5, 2013 at 9:27 am

        I can see you are confused. It’s a shame somebody so vulnerable to cognitive dissonance has such a load voice in the UK Libertarian movement. Maybe you need to get somebody else to do the PR for this site.

        When you have 60 minutes watch this documentary and think about how anarcho-capitalism will solve (or is solving) these people’s problems:

  10. Paul Marks
    Aug 5, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    Frazer Eyes.

    There is no argument or evidence in your comment, just insults (“cognitive dissonance” and so on).

    As for your documentary – South Africa is not an example of Anarcho-Capitalism or even Minarchism (a minimal state). As for lack of law and order (widespread murder and attacks on private property) why would that bother you my dear?

    Also you miss the point – liberty does not “solve people’s problems” for them, it allows them to try and solve their own problems, both individually and by voluntary cooperation (civil society).

    As for South Africa perhaps you should start your reading (if you have not already done so) with W.H. Hutt’s old classic “The Economics of the Colour Bar”,

    After all the Colour Bar (segregation) was a weapon of the South African TRADE UNION MOVEMENT (via the governments it influenced) against “the capitalists”.

    Black people could not be allowed to compete for good jobs with white people – which is why back in the 1920s the armed criminals who went to gallows after the “Rand Revolt” went to hang singing “The Red Flag”.

    Only later did the Communist Party decide to “back the natives” – and for tactical reasons (they reasoned that there were more blacks than whites – and that, with the divergent birth rates, this advantage would increase over time) NOT moral reasons.

    As for South Africa today.

    Surely the Social Justice supporting ANC government is what you would want? Lots of government spending and regulations – and it (of course) produces a mess.

    Unless (of course) you back the fully socialism demanded by the so called “Freedom Charter” of the 1950s?

    Do you really think the present ANC government is too moderate?

    By the way – why do you not write under your own name?

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