The welfare state

The nature and impact of financial issues

The welfare state

Postby Nathan » 08 Sep 2013, 18:11

We already have an ongoing thread in a relatively similar vein about government interference in the economy, but this one is a question specifically about the government provision of welfare. Do you think a certain level of welfare provision is necessary for a society to remain stable, whether we personally like the idea or not, and where should the line be drawn as regards the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor?
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Re: The welfare state

Postby Caleb » 09 Sep 2013, 03:22

Nathan wrote:We already have an ongoing thread in a relatively similar vein about government interference in the economy, but this one is a question specifically about the government provision of welfare. Do you think a certain level of welfare provision is necessary for a society to remain stable, whether we personally like the idea or not, and where should the line be drawn as regards the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor?


There probably need to be some channels for welfare in some way. It's probably beneficial to a society overall (whether in terms of its economy, crime, or many other issues) not to have people fall through the cracks into an abyss from which they and their families will never be able to climb out. That is a recipe for disaster. Whether this can or should be done by various institutions (state, church, charities), and in what contribution, I don't know exactly. Prior to state welfare, there was widespread poverty. Many countries in the world today still do not have state welfare and there is absolutely grinding poverty in such places. Religions and charities do not pick up the slack. Now, we might also look at other cultural factors in such places and find that they are a problem. Regardless though, there is grinding poverty. However, state welfare has also become a bloated mess that will cripple many developed countries in the future. Clearly the answer lies somewhere in between.

The second part of your question is probably the real issue. I suspect that the deeper issue is not something that can be directed or managed by an economic programme. It probably relies very much upon cultural values. If a person is raised to believe that welfare is there for a very specific purpose as a safety net (not a crutch), that it can help him to get back on his feet quickly (i.e. that it's not long term), and that it is slightly shameful to accept welfare or remain upon it for too long, then welfare is probably not going to become an issue. There also need to be certain other accompanying cultural values such as frugality that go along with it.

Where members of the underclass have a problem seems to be that welfare has become a way of life and it's not much different to working a minimum wage job in terms of "income".

It's also no longer socially stigmatised. Related to that, the concept of "an honest day's work" and fulfillment and respect from others for having done that have gone the way of the dinosaur too. Maybe not even fulfillment per se. I don't know if my grandfather liked his job any more than I do, but at some level he probably felt like he was doing something right and contributing to something bigger, even if only a very small cog in that machine. I absolutely cannot stand my job and think it's a complete joke. I don't get any respect from others either, no matter how hard I try to be responsible. In fact, the guys who are downright incompetent and irresponsible get along much better precisely because they keep their mouths shut and toe the line. Very few people really seem to get respect in their jobs. Many people -- both customer and worker or goods/service provider -- seem to be in a constant state of antagonism with one another. I'd be hard pressed to name a single profession that anyone could claim as their own that would be met with unbridled respect. Nurses? Ambulance drivers? Absurdly, they get massive amounts of abuse too. Most are considerably below that in the social hierarchy. It's a vicious cycle of poor customer service and combative customers.

If my likely station in life were to be in a low paying job where the general public would come in and regularly abuse me, I'm not sure that work would appear all that attractive either. I put up with enough nonsense as a supposed middle class, white collar professional. No wonder everyone is out purely for himself and will take anything he can get from another then.

Where members of the middle class have a problem (here I'm thinking about the fallout for many in the middle class in the U.S. after the Sub-prime Crisis) is that they lived way beyond their means during the good times and had nothing in the piggy bank for the inevitable bad times. They too were living from pay cheque to pay cheque in many cases. That's absurd. No kind of welfare, no matter how generous, is ever going to mitigate against that kind of carnage.
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Re: The welfare state

Postby Elliott » 09 Sep 2013, 05:36

Several of you have read my account of spending time on a welfare "back to work" scheme. (It's not on the forum. If anyone else wants to read it, let me know and I'll send it to you.) This "account" took the form of a long argument with liberals on another forum about welfare in general, and I used my own anecdotal experience to back up my views.

I think we need to acknowledge two separate questions:

  • what would a better welfare system be?
  • how to transition to it from the current welfare system?
These really are two separate issues, because frankly the people on the current welfare system are frequently broken and/or morally corrupted by it. If you changed overnight to a more harsh system, these people would either fall apart or go on a crime spree.

I think a (morally) healthier welfare system would take it as read that, while on welfare, you will be doing work for the state. This would not be so that everyone else could feel some sick satisfaction at welfare claimants being "forced to work", but so that the claimant himself did not descend into despair and uselessness. So what work would claimants be doing? I don't know how much of the state's work could be done by claimants - certainly manual work like the maintenance of public gardens and utilities, but also admin work for the more intelligent claimants. It's possible that a large percentage of state employees could be replaced by welfare claimants, although obviously you'd need to be careful with the jobs that require training and diligence.

I would also suggest that, in both this hypothetical better system and the current system, psychological assessment should be carried out on welfare claimants to determine whether they really are mentally fit to work. (Hopefully the despair and depression that can take hold in the current welfare system would be much less likely to take hold in the hypothetical system wherein the claimant is kept busy from the get-go, and so prevented from sinking too far, "losing the plot", or otherwise "coming off the rails".) If they were judged to be mentally unfit to work - and you'd need people doing the judging who had common sense and were able to spot depression, and there are many people who can do this - then some form of rehab would ideally be provided. No doubt this would be expensive, but it'd be a lot less expensive than having them languish on welfare for the rest of their lives.

For the rest, it should be taken for granted that, if you go on welfare, you will still be going to a job five days a week - it'll just be a job for the state, not a private employer. This would make the dole a lot less attractive to people who are just looking for a free ride, or a temporary reprieve while they think about where to go next with their careers. (I was in that latter group. I went on the dole thinking it would be a stop-gap, only a month at most, but ended up spending years on it. I do wish the dole had been less attractive that day.)

Now, as for transitioning to this better system, I don't know how it could be done. You are dealing with at least four very different groups of people:

  • those who want to work and are genuinely looking for a job and stand a chance of getting one.
  • those who want to work and are genuinely looking for a job but, realistically, don't stand a chance of getting one because they're in their 50s and things are very different from when they were in their 30s.
  • those who want to work, but are psychologically broken and either no employer would take them or they themselves aren't really trying, or are sabotaging their chances. They might know what they are doing or they might be deluding themselves about getting a job, and they will probably be deluding everyone else by going through the motions. These people are rare - probably about 5% of claimants - but it is crucial not to lump them into any of the other groups.
  • those who don't want to work. This is the underclass, the chavs, the dregs of humanity. I'd guess they constitute between a third and a half of claimants (more likely a third). All their lives, they have watched their parents and even grandparents live on welfare and they inevitably see it as a viable - indeed, sensible - lifestyle choice. They have zero inclination to be useful or to achieve, and regard with contempt the taxpayer who funds them. These people are, in terms of mental make-up, almost a different species from the middle-class liberal do-gooder who pretends to understand them.

It'd be great if everyone on welfare was in that fourth group - benefits scroungers! - because then we could just set up boot camps and beat some sense into them. I think that is what should be done with the fourth group. For these claimants, the problem of welfare is a problem of (lack of) morality and (lack of) shame. You can't force underclass parents to raise their children with a sense of morality and shame. Indeed, they wouldn't know where to begin. They know right from wrong - everybody knows right from wrong - but in our Atheistic age they don't know that the distinction between right and wrong actually matters, so they can cheerfully ignore it and please themselves. Life has never been real to them; they are able to believe, say and do whatever they want. The example I always use is of an 18 year-old male on the "back to work" course who made these two statements within three minutes:
Bin Laden's a c**t.

Bin Laden deserves a medal.

Absolutely nothing penetrated this young man's skull. Life was a merry-go-round, a meaningless circus. As long as he got his welfare money every week, good could be bad, bad could be good, a terrorist who mass-murdered his (the boy's) kith and kin could be a hero or a villain. Nothing mattered. Welfare had separated him from the world. He was little more than a rodent. I believe that the only way to make him a human being again would be boot camp, merciless and thorough.

There is one final issue, and this pertains to any welfare system. It is the question with which liberals always shut down any debate about reforming welfare, and so far I haven't seen (and certainly don't have) an answer to it. The question is:
What about the children of welfare claimants? If you cut their parents' welfare, the children will suffer and possibly starve to death. You are effectively enabling the death of children.

This might well be a question that no society has ever had to confront before. In Victorian times and all times before that, the child simply starved to death. But now we have welfare, we have human rights, and we have an assumed responsibility for everyone's well-being, all of which means that we cannot let a child starve to death. Therefore, the child becomes the golden ticket with which the welfare claimant can always demand that his purgatory be elongated in perpetuity. You might try to pin the responsibility for his children's staying alive on him, but he (and the liberal) will say that the final responsibility is yours. No matter what boot camp you send him to, he can always say to himself: "When I'm out of here, they'll have to keep giving me money because otherwise my kids will die." No matter what reform to welfare you propose, the liberal can always say: "You want to reduce the standard allowance from £64/week to £63/week? You're taking that money out of the mouths of children. You're happy to see children go without food and clothing? You murderer!"

Of course, all of that aside, there are still small improvements that could be made to the current welfare system. If claimants are smoking or getting tattoos, then you're giving them more money than they need to stay alive and feed their children. In fact I would strongly advise changing welfare from money to food stamps. I don't think that welfare should be a living hell, because I don't think that would actually help people to get back into work - it would simply destroy them more quickly - but I do think that a reduction in freedom, such as limiting their buying options to food and clothing, would go a long way towards making a (liberating) job more attractive.
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Re: The welfare state

Postby Caleb » 10 Sep 2013, 00:51

Elliott: All that you wrote is good. I always worry about incrementalism (to coin a term) though and couldn't help feeling that we'd rein welfare in to sensible levels and then 20-40 years later we'd be back having the same conversation.

Also, the hardcore recipients are not stupid. Sure, they're stupid in conventional terms. So are my dogs. So is a little kid. They all know how to work a system though. If there is one skill they have truly mastered, beyond any level either you or I will ever reach, it is working a/the system. The system would have to be watertight to stop them and it's not going to be watertight. No system is.
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Re: The welfare state

Postby Elliott » 10 Sep 2013, 07:07

Caleb wrote:Elliott: All that you wrote is good. I always worry about incrementalism (to coin a term) though and couldn't help feeling that we'd rein welfare in to sensible levels and then 20-40 years later we'd be back having the same conversation.

Yes but, as you said, in nations without a welfare state charity doesn't pick up the slack. Therefore we have to have some level of government welfare and therefore we have to accept the (very real) danger of incrementalism, and be vigilant against it. On the other hand, it might be one of those things that generations just have to learn for themselves, one of those mistakes they have to make - cyclic naivety.

Also, the hardcore recipients are not stupid. Sure, they're stupid in conventional terms. So are my dogs. So is a little kid. They all know how to work a system though. If there is one skill they have truly mastered, beyond any level either you or I will ever reach, it is working a/the system.

Oh, I know they're not stupid. Believe me, I've watched them shamelessly discussing tricks and techniques to get more money from welfare, in front of welfare officers.

The system would have to be watertight to stop them and it's not going to be watertight. No system is.

This is why I said that it's ultimately a problem of lack of shame/morality. You can't control everyone at the micro level with rules and regulations; it doesn't work. I think we just have to accept that, whatever welfare system there is, it will be abused by at least some people. In the meantime we should look at reasons for people to be moral; I think without religion the only other way is probably national pride.
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Re: The welfare state

Postby Caleb » 10 Sep 2013, 23:35

Elliott wrote:Yes but, as you said, in nations without a welfare state charity doesn't pick up the slack. Therefore we have to have some level of government welfare and therefore we have to accept the (very real) danger of incrementalism, and be vigilant against it. On the other hand, it might be one of those things that generations just have to learn for themselves, one of those mistakes they have to make - cyclic naivety.


I don't have any real solution to this. As you wrote, they might have to make those mistakes for themselves.

This is why I said that it's ultimately a problem of lack of shame/morality. You can't control everyone at the micro level with rules and regulations; it doesn't work. I think we just have to accept that, whatever welfare system there is, it will be abused by at least some people. In the meantime we should look at reasons for people to be moral; I think without religion the only other way is probably national pride.


Morality is the bigger issue, I think.

I don't think religion or national pride are the necessary components of that though. The two (previously) functional welfare systems in the world that everyone used to look to were the Scandinavian model and the Japanese model. Religion was not really the main driver of those. As to national pride, that's a little trickier. The Japanese certainly were not allowed to be too proud of their nation after WW2, though that was probably below the surface to some extent. Would anyone have ever described the Scandinavians that way, even before the onset of multiculturalism?

Welfare also seemed to work to some extent in other places in early days. I suspect that the reason for that, especially in places such as Scandinavia and Japan, was cultural homogeneity. If people are all on the same page then there won't naturally be large divisions and everyone will feel as though they have a "stake" in society. That still seems to exist to a large degree in Japan from what I can tell. In Scandinavia it would possibly exist if it weren't for MC.

Maybe it wouldn't though. In the rest of the West, I don't think it's even just about MC. There are huge cultural/ideological divides in most places now, even amongst the native populations. At least in Australia, the divisions between political parties, and therefore, the world views represented by their supporters are enormous now. There are huge swathes of people of similar demographic to me who I just cannot talk to about politics now. If people are that different, then they do not see one another as part of a larger in-group. Once that happens, there's a certain antagonism and sense of "I need to get what I can off that guy before he gets something off me". Now, obviously, someone who is middle class does not go on welfare per se, but a trashy member of the underclass getting the dole is an easy target. There's an enormous amount of middle class welfare or pork barrelling that is more subtle. The underclass are not clever enough or well positioned enough to capture that, so they capture what they can in other ways. I really don't think the problem lies entirely at the feet of the underclass. They're just the most obvious symptom of a much deeper malaise.

I think the average upper middle class Greens voter in Australia is just as detrimental to society as a welfare recipient from the underclass. They both want to syphon off huge amounts of money to be wasted on stupid things. They both are anti-civilisational. Yet getting them all to behave in a moral manner (of course, the upper middle class Greens voter is someone I'd rather be around because they are probably far more moral in most ways than an underclass welfare recipient, but both are still problems) and getting everyone in society back on the same page is going to be a very hard task.
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Re: The welfare state

Postby Jonathan » 12 Sep 2013, 10:45

Caleb wrote:I always worry about incrementalism (to coin a term) though and couldn't help feeling that we'd rein welfare in to sensible levels and then 20-40 years later we'd be back having the same conversation.


Good term. But I don't think it's possible to "rein in" a bureaucracy as well established as the modern welfare appartus, especially as it is widely seen as morally positive. In desperate times (e.g. war, economic depression, financial collapse) you might amputate parts of it, and you might kill it off if the population undergoes an ideological revolution.

But "rein in"? I suspect it will go the way of Jim Hacker in Yes Minister, who, wanting to get Civil Service spending under control, established a Bureaucratic Watchdog office - with 500 workers. Just as the hardcore welfare recipients know how to work the welfare system, so does the welfare bureaucracy know how to work the government and media systems.
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Re: The welfare state

Postby Caleb » 12 Sep 2013, 22:53

Jonathan: Good point. So what do you think is the solution? If not the solution, what do you think is the likely outcome? Will societies be forced to accept that the best possible outcome is that they'll be saddled with a certain amount of corruption and people milking the system and hope that it doesn't become so bad that it drags the entire economy down?
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