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.