Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rule by Social Worker

In a comment on last night’s news feed, Queen had this to say :

The welfare state has two clients, not one. One is the designated “victim” receiving hand-outs, and the other is the person making a comfortable living out of distributing the hand-outs. And these last clients are the real reason why these types of laws get made, not the first clients.

Queen’s insight is right on the money. In an ideal soft-socialist regime, there would be only two classes of people: social workers and clients. Needless to say, the former group would absorb a much larger per-capita share of state funding, as would befit their lofty mission.

Oh, and there would also have to be one remaining capitalist — a really, really rich guy — 99.7% of whose filthy lucre would be taxed in order to support the entire system.

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I bring all this up because Queen’s comment reminded me of my own brief encounter with a corrupt social welfare system.

Thirty years ago I left a well-paying IT job to move to the countryside and live as a landscape painter. Needless to say, the change of career required that I impoverish myself, and for two decades Dymphna and I scrimped by on next to nothing, sometimes hovering just above the official poverty level.

After a year or two in my new life, the Second Great Oil Crisis arrived. Americans of a certain age will remember those grim times in the summer and fall of 1979, when Jimmy Carter froze oil prices and motorists could only buy gasoline every other day, depending on whether they had an odd or even license plate number. I remember helping a poor guy who was out of gas on his no-buy day and had to get to work. He paid Dymphna for the privilege of siphoning out some gas from her tank, and got a mouthful of gasoline for his troubles when he was getting the siphon started.

That’s what the times were like back then, before Reagan took over and restored some common sense to the country’s economic policies.
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That fall, looking ahead to a winter of limited and high-priced fuel supplies, Congress took pity on the poor and the elderly and enacted the Federal Fuel Assistance program. If you qualified, the federal government (acting through the local county authorities) authorized you to receive fuel for heating your home at a discount rate, or even for free.

At the time we were heating our house with a woodstove, and we bought our wood by the pickup load from a good ol’ boy (I’ll call him Duane) who lived just down the road from us. One day Duane told us that he had signed up as a supplier for the fuel assistance program, and that we ought to apply — he could then deliver our wood at no cost to us.

So I went on down to the Social Services office at the courthouse and filled out the forms. I was totally honest, and recorded all our income and assets accurately. I could see by the accompanying benefits schedule that even with our meager income we didn’t qualify for assistance. Obviously, Duane didn’t know what he was talking about.

Sure enough, a few days later the county sent us a notice, saying that we didn’t qualify for fuel assistance. I called Duane and told him the news, but he said, “Don’t worry — I know the county administrator. I’ll talk to him.”

Another week went by, and the county sent us a second form letter, this time telling us that we qualified for federal fuel assistance after all! We were given a voucher for six loads of firewood for the winter, to be delivered by Duane.

Duane came by the next day and explained the deal to us. By his timely intervention with the county administrator he had enabled us to obtain free firewood, so it was only fair that we split the take with him: we were to receive three loads of oak firewood at no charge.

That’s the way the Federal Fuel Assistance Program worked in our neighborhood.

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That tawdry little incident — my only brush, inadvertent or otherwise, with official corruption — was an eye-opener. It made me realize that there are people out there who make a good living by gaming the system, and it helped give me a taste for low taxes and limited government.

When the state takes vast quantities of money from its citizens and redistributes it, the resulting slush pile is a tempting target for shrewd and unscrupulous people. The opportunity is there, and there will always be people ready to take advantage of it.

Federal welfare money is like pure Bolivian cocaine — it gets stepped on so many times by several layers of middlemen that only a small fraction of it remains when the final product is delivered to the people it was intended to reach.

I don’t think Duane was an anomaly. I wasn’t even looking for him, but he found me. He was a microcosm, a miniature example of what goes on at all levels of the government, right up to the high-flyers’ club where a favored campaign contributor gets that plum billion-dollar contract.

Uncle Sam coerces money from you, Joe Citizen, with the threat of arrest and imprisonment if you don’t hand it over. It is then collected together to benefit the “needy”, but before the client receives a penny, the middlemen are lined up with their hands out, ready to get their share.

The real outrage is that most of those grasping hands are receiving their slice of the pie legally. Social workers, administrators, professional grant-writers, legal aid workers, consultants of various stripes — all of them get a share, none of them has to engage in what I call productive labor, and all of it is quite legal.

After my little lesson in socialist economics, I swore off government benefits. I had several opportunities to apply for state fellowships or artists’ grants, but I turned them down.

Every penny I made during those years came from ordinary citizens who parted with their money voluntarily because they liked my paintings.

My choice kept me quite poor, but it was deeply satisfying. I have no regrets.

29 comments:

Queen said...

I'm amazed my simple little comment has been given such a place of honor. BTW -- you are a brave guy Baron. I originally trained as an artist as well, but I sold out to the corporate world long ago.

Diamed said...

On the other hand:

"The statistics concerning the riches of the global elite are staggering.

According to Rothkopf, the top 1 per cent of the world’s most prosperous people own 40per cent of the planet’s global wealth. Furthermore, the combined net worth of the 1,000 richest people in the world is twice that of the poorest 2.5 billion."

Can you really say capitalism is better?

Henrik R Clausen said...

Theodore Dalrymple causally called social workers "enemies of civilization". What is happening here is a grand scale violation of the principle of private property, and it's Ungood. (Yes, they are trying to take bits out of our language, too).

Can you really say capitalism is better?

Yes. I don't care about some people being mega-rich. Their fun. What I care about is the little man, doing a decent job benefitting others, paying his dues and taking care of his family.

Particular in Used-to-be-Great Britain, that was the order of the day until the European Union appeared with its massive regulations and redistributions. That destroyed a grand tradition of independence and constructive behaviour, and we see Britain falling particular hard into decay these years, the efforts of the 'social workers' obviously not helping a damned thing.

Capitalism for the masses, please.

pasta said...

@Henrik

"Particular in Used-to-be-Great Britain, that was the order of the day until the European Union appeared with its massive regulations and redistributions."

Rubbish. The UK joined the EU no sooner than 1973, at a time when it already had more than two decades experience with Socialist policies.

pasta said...

"When the state takes vast quantities of money from its citizens and redistributes it, the resulting slush pile is a tempting target for shrewd and unscrupulous people. The opportunity is there, and there will always be people ready to take advantage of it."

That is true for any item of public spending, like police, transport, army, education etc. and not limited to welfare. The idea to get rid of related corruption by doing away with the spending altogether strikes me as terribly simplistic and unwise. Everybody knows that a lot of money on the army is wasted by an unwieldy bureaucracy, which might well be corrupt, too, but everybody also accepts that some corruption and inefficiency is the price to pay in order to achieve any results at all. What one can do, is to devise sensible policies and practices to minimize corruption and inefficiency, and that can and should be done with welfare, too.

Doing away with welfare altogether would leave a lot of people starving or freezing. Some people seem not to be aware that such helpless people really exist, because most of us live either alone or in nuclear families consisting of selected members only, so these people are kept out of our sight. I have a cousin who got a meningitis at the age of 15 which made him completely disabled and in need of uninterrupted professional care for the rest of his life. His parents are middle class but nevertheless they can't shoulder the financial burden alone. As long as the state still is capable of it, it should help here. There is no merit in letting rich people waste their money on vain luxuries when other people have to perish for it.

Of course, I am aware of the devastating consequences of Socialist policies and also of welfare excesses. These need to be addressed and corrected as well as possible, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Some European states seem to do a decent job in it and combine an extensive welfare state with a strong and healthy economy, Denmark might be one example.

Francis W. Porretto said...

I would propose that the welfare state has a third "client:" persons and organizations that sell to it. Of course, a bureaucracy that simply redistributes money from taxpayers to beneficiaries appears "vendor-free," but even such a simple operation will require the trappings of organization: office space, desks, pencils, stationery, business cards, and so forth.

The vendors who sell to a welfare bureaucracy have almost as much stake in its continued operation and growth as the persons who work directly for it or receive benefits from it. Yes, they could sell their wares to other customers...well, unless the goods were specifically designed for the bureaucracy in question and have no other imaginable application...but selling to government is a great deal like losing your virginity: the representations of some highly specialized surgeons notwithstanding, in practice, once you've crossed that line, it's impossible to go back.

Queen said...

Then there's also the "racial grievance" industry. People are making billions out of that -- lawyers, "diversity" coordinators, academicsl, "minority" hustlers of all kinds. And mass immigration makes it all so much easier -- what need would a homogenous society have for "diversity" coordinators? How insane is it that people who VOLUNTARILY move to a white majority country, many times without even being their legally, can instantly claim "minority" status and start immediately benefiting from a whole huge host of taxpayer and corporate-funded racial preferences and goodies? It's insane.

Queen said...

pasta -- Doing away with welfare altogether would leave a lot of people starving or freezing.
---------------------------

The problem is that the welfare state has been hijacked by globalists. A lot of those people who would be left "starving or freezing" are imported colonizers who shouldn't be in the West in the first place.

pasta said...

@Queen

"The problem is that the welfare state has been hijacked by globalists. A lot of those people who would be left "starving or freezing" are imported colonizers who shouldn't be in the West in the first place."

Of course, I am aware of that, but the obvious solution for this problem would be not to abolish welfare altogether, but to deport the colonizers or at least to restrict welfare to citizens, wouldn't it? Furthermore, to take measures which prevent the dependent people from reproducing their dependency in their children, as far as their dependency is inheritable.

Some people say the welfare state somehow caused mass immigration in the first place. I don't believe it. I believe that some people just have an ideological axe to grind here and use mass immigration as a pretext.

Let me add that welfare is not a top priority for me. There are many issues in our times that I deem far more important, particularly those on which our nations' very survival depends. If abolishing welfare would rescue us, I would be all for it. But I don't believe that it would, and I still rank welfare higher than windmills, solar power or electrostatic fusion.

Baron Bodissey said...

Thank you all for making good points.

Diamed, I don’t care how rich other people get. Doesn’t bother me at all.

But if you look at the list of the wealthiest people in the world (I posted a version a few days ago), most of them have gotten rich through their position as government rulers or managers of state enterprises. It’s very very difficult to get filthy rich without government assistance.

That’s the thing about government — it tends to enrich those who are on the inside, part of the club. That’s not capitalism, that’s nepotism or corruption. Nepotism has its merits, but let’s not confuse it with capitalism.

Pasta — I agree that we can’t just abandon the welfare state without a lot of suffering for ordinary people who depend on it. I don’t advocate a revolution in which the current system is instantly destroyed. We will have to wean the public of the government teat gradually — assuming that it can be done at all.

The idea that people would starve and freeze if the government didn’t take care of them is venerable and persistent, but it is not true. Most starvation and destitution in history occurred before the advent of general prosperity. It was not the lack of the welfare state, but the lack of societal wealth, that caused that kind of suffering.

As a counterexample, take America in, say, 1901. There was virtually no welfare state, yet it was extremely rare for anyone to starve, or to live in destitution outside of the big-city immigrant ghettoes.

America had general prosperity, and the country was structured in communities. People were taken care of within those communities, by families, friends, churches, local charity organizations, and other private structures that were close to those in need. They weren’t taken care of by an enormous centralized bureaucratic state; in fact the idea was alien, repugnant, and vaguely un-American. It wasn’t until the Progressives — who worshipped at the European altar of a strong State — got through with us that the fundamental ethic of the country changed.

We can’t go back to those conditions, not by fiat, anyway. But baby steps could be taken — requiring people to take care of their parents in their old age would be a start, forcing them back into what was the social norm a hundred years ago. Of course, all those people with no children are going to have difficulties, and in another thirty years time more than half of the elderly will be without siblings to take care of them, much less children. The problems the next generation will face are going to be immense.

For me, a basic rule is that government should perform as few functions as possible, and that taxes should be kept as low as possible, to eliminate the corruption and non-productive behavior that saps the national commonweal and the individual character.

Defending the borders, managing the currency, maintaining national security, and regulating interstate commerce — those are some of the very few necessary functions of government. There’s no earthly reason — other than a century of Progressive habit — why the government should design school curricula, tell people what they should eat, or fund ballet companies. Localities can do the first, individuals can decide the second for themselves, and people who like ballet can do the third.

Francis — you have a good point. Much of private enterprise — it’s hard to tell exactly how much — constitutes a remora on the leviathan of government. Blue Cross/Blue Shield is an obvious example, as are Boeing and other defense contractors. But computer manufacturers, software companies, office equipment vendors — the list of those enterprises that depend wholly or in large part on the government is huge.

For my purposes, they’re a de facto part of the government, with the fig leaf of private autonomy to mask the fact.

Afonso Henriques said...

Ok I got it. I agree, I am all for (directed and controled) Capitalism, I am all against heavy Socialist regimes like those of Europe.

Russia or America, which is best? I don't know much of both to tell but I think American system, don't matter how flawd, continues to be better. But you could be more repressive though.

A little corruption to favour ours is normal. It is everywhere.

The problem is when it get's serious. Here, for instance, we had the
Golden Whistle scandal involving the two most lucrative sub sectors of our economy: Football and Politics.

Everybody knew it, everybody still knows and no one cares. Families who own clubs... men who own the referees association, clubs and are majors of towns are expelled from their parties but continue to get elected President of Clubs, Referees and Mayors of Towns.

Honestly, I think corruption isn't that bad and it exists also in Capitalist systems; The problem with social wellfare is that it enables the most given members of society to achieve their goals in order for the sub-humane to live for free.

There is no relation between the "quality" of the person and the "benefits" he/she is conceded. At National time, it blows it all.

Afonso Henriques said...

Pasta,

"Some people say the welfare state somehow caused mass immigration in the first place."

In Europe, it is so true.

xlbrl said...

Jouvenel--'Redistribution is in effect far less a redistribution of free income from the richer to the poorer, as we imagined, than a redistribution of power from the individual to the state.'
Theodore Dalrymple has written many a column around this issue of the two clients of the welfare state. He also sees that the explosion of alleged higher education in Britain over forty years has caused a great excess of very ordinary people who formerly would have found a skill, but instead wear only the illusion of a faux higher education.
They vote, and they expect to be employed. They are. Voila.
More fish for them to pass out rather than fishing poles, more regulations to be looked after, ever more work and self-satisfaction for clean fingernails.
Bastiat claimed that there were only three ways to settle the question of legal plunder:
1)The few plunder the many.
2)Everybody plunders everybody.
3)Nobody plunders anybody.
In the Democratic Equality, we have choosen door number two, no matter what the anti-capitalist bogeyman will tell you.
Diamed--
In a socialist system human nature is not ended. The most influential and calculating take what they want. In a capitalist system, the most capable will build what they desire. There is a tremendous difference in the result of those two inequalities. The toys of a wealthy capitalist are a fraction of his capital, which is always at productive work. When the state owns the capital, there is no productive work. Choose your inequality.

Proud Infidel said...

Diamed said:

"Can you really say capitalism is better?"

Yes, because of 2 simple facts: The poorest countries in the world tend to shun capitalism. The world's richest countries tend to embrace capitalism, or at least enough of it to offset some their socialist ball and chain. China, anyone?

pasta said...

I don't know enough about history to judge with certainty how the living conditions of the poor were before the advent of the welfare state. But if everything was fine back then, why did the Socialists become so popular and why was the welfare state created in the first place? I reckon that it happened because many people took offense to the poverty of many in the presence of the wealth of a few.

Many things have changed since then: life expectancy has more than doubled, far more medical care is available, but it is much more expensive, too, and the balance of age groups has shifted greatly towards more old people. I don't think that the welfare state can be rolled back. I can't imagine how some people would get by nowadays at decent standards without one.

The Baron wrote:

"For me, a basic rule is that government should perform as few functions as possible, and that taxes should be kept as low as possible, to eliminate the corruption and non-productive behavior that saps the national commonweal and the individual character."

I don't see why it would strengthen the individual character and why the national commonweal would be served better if the financial contribution to it through taxation was kept as low as possible, so that people could spend as much of their income as possible for indulging in selfish pleasures instead.

Afonso wrote:

"In Europe, it is so true."

Is it? Is the only way then to protect our countries from mass immigration, to make them less worthy to live in for everybody?

Baron Bodissey said...

Pasta --

I don't know enough about history to judge with certainty how the living conditions of the poor were before the advent of the welfare state. But if everything was fine back then, why did the Socialists become so popular and why was the welfare state created in the first place? I reckon that it happened because many people took offense to the poverty of many in the presence of the wealth of a few.

It’s difficult to separate out the different strands of received disinformation that are implicit in what you say.

First of all, everything wasn’t “fine” back then — people were subject to the vicissitudes of fate, just as they are now. They were also consigned to live with the consequences of their own poor choices, which is no longer true. Under the welfare state, one can be lazy, improvident, and self-destructive without having to face the natural consequences for one’s behavior.

Socialism was not a bottom-up innovation. The masses did not embrace it; it was foisted upon them from above. None of the Socialist leaders, whether the “revolutionaries” or the “reactionary” Socialists like Bismarck, was an ordinary working-class person. They were all elite, sophisticated, well-educated people.

Socialism was “scientific” and thus beyond dispute; it was imposed on the whole of society for the good of everyone by the Progressive leaders of the day, who were certain that they knew better than the unwashed masses.

I don't see why it would strengthen the individual character and why the national commonweal would be served better if the financial contribution to it through taxation was kept as low as possible, so that people could spend as much of their income as possible for indulging in selfish pleasures instead.

This is the legacy of 100+ years of Progressive brainwashing. Socialism has convinced you that people who work hard, make money, and then spend it in ways that they choose themselves are somehow “greedy” and “selfish”.

Implicit in this description is the assumption that the officials of the State are better guardians than you of your own money, that they will spend it more wisely and do more good with it. Nobody represents this attitude more clearly than Hillary Clinton.

A hundred years of evidence to the contrary makes no difference; the fairy tale persists. There is not one whit of evidence that government decisions serve the general welfare better than the decisions of the people themselves, the ones who are most affected by such decisions.

Economic improvement, the increase in the standard of living and general well-being, all took place before the advent of the Socialist state. Read Thomas Sowell if you doubt me — he has amassed the econometric statistics that show the correlation between economic stagnation and Socialist policies. This was true in 1917, and it has held sway everywhere ever since then.

The idea that Socialism improves the living standards of the population is propaganda, pure and simple. It’s a myth generated by the Socialist elites themselves.

Like so many modern “facts”, it has no empirical basis.

Diamed said...

Nonsense! Just compare the railroad industry before progressive legislation was passed and afterwards! People were forced to work in situations more dangerous than battlefields and when injured were just thrown away with no compensation. Children were forced to labor at exhausting dangerous machines with starvation wages far below the adult men. Women were stuck into stuffy rooms with no windows or exits and left to die in fires that broke out. Before socialism, runaway capitalism had made the whole world into a hellhole. With just a few simple laws changed it turned out companies could still make money, while women and children and men could be protected. This flies in the face of all the lies capitalists made about 'needing' to abuse workers in order to 'break even.' There was a time period where a few rich people owned everything and mercilessly abused all workers to the point of death, it was worse than slavery and you lived a shorter half-life under it than slavery. Coal miners, railroad workers, slaughterhouses, you have no idea how slipshod, environmentally damaging, and worker-endangering these enterprises were!

It was socialism that mandated public education for all. Without education, kids would have been consigned to unskilled labor forever, despite their potential, just so the rich could continue their unmerited hegemony over the disadvantaged. It was socialism that gave people upward mobility and the ability to better themselves, not capitalism.

No facts to back up the fact that socialism improves living standards of the people? How about the electrification and plumbing programs FDR started so that everyone in America could live with electricity and sewage? How about the interstate highway system, the GI fund, or public vaccinations? Are you aware satellites and the internet were all funded and invented by the government, without which none of us could even be talking? What about the national parks that allow all Americans access to their most beautiful landscapes not just the hyper-rich who would fence it off and turn it into their private playgrounds? Socialism was a necessary, historic inevitability just like Marx predicted. The abuses that came afterwards including pandering to the undeserving do not discredit the 99% of socialism which was hugely beneficial to the earth.

And yes of course the elites created socialism, the elites also created capitalism, christianity, and everything else on earth. Only elites are smart enough to come up with new ideas or implement dramatic changes, and of course the unwashed masses aren't fit to make any decisions for themselves, how could they? They can't even understand newspaper articles much less the level of sophistication it takes to run a country. It does not change the fact that they did it for the sake of the people, and the people liked it because it worked. The current abuses of the socialist system are nothing compared to the abuses of the capitalist system in the 1800's. No one in their right mind would go back to those days where unions were simply massacred by the army and 'company stores' issued their own currency to their workers who could only buy the store's hyper-overpriced products with the fake-money they were paid in! Some workers were paid so little they became more and more in debt to the company the longer they worked there! They were actually paying the company to work for them, never saw a dime!

Diamed said...

Here's a 'fact' that socialism improves the living standards of your people. In 1914 when the british gave a draft in order to marshal an army to fight WWI with, to their dismay the ordinary british person was too small, weak, sickly, and dumb to qualify to the most basic standards. Meanwhile their american counterparts were taller, stronger, smarter, happier, healthier--all because they had not lived under the stultifying, evil influence of industrialization but were at the time still freeholder farmers. Capitalism had literally ruined the stock of the british people into a murloc-like devolution. You can't blame socialism for what happened in 1914, that was the freest market you could ever dream of. Or look at WWII, where again capitalism made a mockery of itself. Under German siege and constant uboat and aerial bombardment, living standards in the UK actually went UP not down. Why? Because the government started rationing food and basic goods and handing all citizens equal ration cards. This rationing which was made in order to conserve precious resources was actually a huge INCREASE in goods for the poor who had never been so wealthy or well fed before. If only Germany had bombed the UK forever, the british never had it so good. The average morbidity and poverty rates etc all dropped compared to the ravages of capitalist inequality which had existed before the war.

You know when getting bombed helps your poverty rate that your system is broken!

Baron Bodissey said...

Diamed --

Social laws can exist without Socialism per se. Child labor laws, laws regulating working conditions, etc. can exist (and have existed) without the rest of Socialism.

When I use the word "Socialism" I mean the massive coercive removal of people's resources by the government for state-mandated redistribution. That's what I object to.

Restricting child labor can be done without any extra taxation whatsoever, simply by having the people's elected representatives pass a law and then enforce it as any other law is enforced.

That's not what I mean by "Socialism". Progressives want to take your money, lots and lots of it, and do good things with it. That's what I mean by "Socialism".

Graham Dawson (Archonix) said...

Most of the supposedly "socialist" regs and laws in the UK were brought in by the Tories, not any of the left-wing parties. They saw the advantage of universal suffrage, working weeks and workers who would actually survive longer than a few months. They did it to free people, not to enslave them as socialists do. They did it to provide equal opportunity, where socialism tries to create equal outcome. Mixing up social policy and socialism is one of the reasons socialists still manage to get away with so many lies.

It was the Republicans that ended slavery. it was Republicans that brought about civil rights legislation in the US. It is capitalists - economic right-wingers - who see the advantage in liberating people. The main theme of all this legislation was primarily the light touch of the state. It was legislation that asked people to look out for themselves rather than forcing them into strictly defined roles. It set outer boundaries, without setting strict behavioural rules. It created a fence. Within that fence you were still free to move as you liked. Socialism doesn't create a fence, it creates railway tracks.

Besides, what we had in the UK in the industrial revolution was not capitalism, per se. We were still a highly stratified society and much of the productive wealth was generated not by entrepreneurs but by landed gentry, who either sponsored people with ideas or directly implemented them with their own money. The trade class - the self-made man - was still up-and-coming in that era, still a relatively small power. The result was that the majority of industry was initially controlled by people who also had a large and direct influence on government policy.

That is not capitalism. In fact it's more akin to what socialsm inevitably becomes, as the rich use government power to increase their grip on wealth. Look at Gore for just one example of this, enriching himself at the expense of others by foisting socialist control over capital on the entire world.

When the trades grew and matured they wrested this power from the old moneyed types, the people who had one hand on each pot, and then things began to change. It was no longer a case of the rich and powerful using their positions of power to control their workers. The people became the power, had their individual power over the government increased, and their prosperity increased along with that.

Henrik R Clausen said...

Very, very eloquent, Graham!

The beginning of Capitalism as such is some 800 years ago, with the financial tools and all that makes capitalism tick. Back then, however, we didn't have the communication tools nor the machinery to make a few extremely rich. Instead, we had many people get somewhat rich, which isn't bad. Italy, Netherlands and England lead the way.

Sheik Yer'mami said...

This article is totally spot on!

For every welfare recipient and every asylum seeker there is an army of social workers and government supported carers out there who have a vested interest that everything remains the same. These parasites are in what we call 'created' jobs, as opposed to real jobs which evolve out of the production process and through private enterprise.

I spit on these deluded fools who manufactured this social hammock which has now become a noose around the neck of every civilized country.

pasta said...

@Baron

Implicit in this description is the assumption that the officials of the State are better guardians than you of your own money, that they will spend it more wisely and do more good with it.

The expenses required for the commonweal are enormous and can't be covered by voluntary donations alone. Therefore these funds need to raised by (forcible) taxation instead. Everybody understands this intuitively when it comes to other items than welfare. For instance, nobody in our times would advocate to fund an army by other means than (forcible) taxation. In order to serve the commonweal best, everybody needs to be required - and force applied, if somebody shirks one's duties - to contribute to it according to his capabilities. I don't see why it should be any different for social expenses like welfare or universal health care. You may consider these expendable, but if you don't, then covering them by taxation-raised money seems the soundest way to do.

[this was addressed to Diamed, but I choose to respond to it nonetheless]
Social laws can exist without Socialism per se. Child labor laws, laws regulating working conditions, etc. can exist (and have existed) without the rest of Socialism.

When I use the word "Socialism" I mean the massive coercive removal of people's resources by the government for state-mandated redistribution. That's what I object to.


If a child can't support itself by labor, somebody else must pay for its support instead. What if its parents are dead or not capable of supporting it? Child labor laws get an unpleasant sight out of the way, but it leaves the society a bill to foot. Improving working conditions cost money, too. Due to legislation enforcing better working conditions, sales prices may rise and certain jobs may become unprofitable, its holders laid off and possibly in need for financial support for some time, if, due to such legislation, a shortage of jobs arises. All these things cost money and, one way or another, this money must come from somewhere.

I call massive coercive removal of people's resources by the government for state-mandated redistribution not "Socialism" (which I don't defend, I am not a Socialist), but simply taxation. It's an ancient, proven practice and perfectly sound for all expenses deemed necessary for the commonweal. Everybody understands this when it comes to things like national defense or police. Nowadays most conservatives agree that universal basic education is a must, too. I just draw the line a little farther and include welfare for the helpless and universal health care in the commonweal, too, as long as the society is capable of providing these. I don't see how it can be justified to leave people in need without help when the money to help them is there.

Baron Bodissey said...

Pasta --

I’m going to tackle your points piecemeal, in several separate comments.

The expenses required for the commonweal are enormous and can't be covered by voluntary donations alone. Therefore these funds need to raised by (forcible) taxation instead. Everybody understands this intuitively when it comes to other items than welfare. For instance, nobody in our times would advocate to fund an army by other means than (forcible) taxation. In order to serve the commonweal best, everybody needs to be required - and force applied, if somebody shirks one's duties - to contribute to it according to his capabilities.

I agree with you here, but the normal functions of the state, which are stipulated by the social contract and paid for through taxation, are not an issue. The normal functions of the state include providing for the common defense, maintaining the currency, running a legal system to enforce laws and adjudicate private contractual disputes, and other similar necessities. When the government assumes additional functions, it is a usurpation of the natural rights of the people, and it inevitably leads to tyranny. Inevitably.

For more than a hundred years the American Republic performed those basic functions with a very low rate of taxation. I don’t know the exact figures, but public spending as a percentage of GDP was extremely low by today’s standards — probably in the low single digits — until the income tax was adopted in 1913.

Nowadays we pay nearly half our wealth in taxes, and over half in some European countries. The vast bulk of this money is simply a transfer from productive citizens to non-productive citizens. The only reason we have managed it for so long without popular revolt is that we live in phenomenally wealthy societies, and it’s a Ponzi scheme — in order to function, it depends on a continuous increase in the population to provide new suckers for the system.

The demographic collapse will see the end of the modern welfare state. It’s inevitable; it has to happen. There is nothing anyone can do. No matter how powerful a government is, it cannot solve this problem by fiat. Before the middle of this century, the welfare state will be gone.

If we choose to assess this prospect honestly, and act prudently, we may be able to restructure our governmental functions so as to avoid a cataclysm. But the longer we delay systemic change, the less likely it is that there will be a non-violent solution.

Baron Bodissey said...

Pasta, part 2 --

I don't see why it should be any different for social expenses like welfare or universal health care. You may consider these expendable, but if you don't, then covering them by taxation-raised money seems the soundest way to do.

Unfortunately, you are operating under the same false premises that most people do nowadays in the West. We have all been brainwashed for so long by Socialist propaganda that it is very difficult to think about these issues in a different framework.

The standing assumption is that we cannot guarantee the general well-being of the citizenry without the intervention of the state. This is a persistent and pernicious fallacy. Prior to the modern all-encompassing Socialist state, civil society — a plurality of institutions that included family, church, local government, voluntary organizations, charities, fraternal orders, guilds, trade associations, and so on, in addition to the national government — provided a web of support that included virtually everyone. As long as there was general prosperity, people were fairly well taken care of.

But the Industrial Revolution, followed by the various Socialist Revolutions (both soft and hard versions) saw the end of all that. Civil society has been all but destroyed by Socialism, and it is an open question whether it can be re-established without a prior societal collapse.

Baron Bodissey said...

I call massive coercive removal of people's resources by the government for state-mandated redistribution not "Socialism" (which I don't defend, I am not a Socialist), but simply taxation.

Ah, but as I mentioned before, the vast bulk of taxation is given over to Socialist redistribution of wealth, and goes to the maintenance of welfare state “entitlements”. In the United States, the proportion is more than two-thirds, with almost all the rest given over to national defense.

European countries generally spend very little on national defense, so I assume that the proportion of their tax money redistributed to non-productive people is even larger.

Baron Bodissey said...

Pasta, part 4 (final part!) --

Nowadays most conservatives agree that universal basic education is a must, too.

Universal education is a public good, but it does not require the national government to implement it.

The United States in the late 19th century had an extremely high literacy rate without the central government being involved. The localities — the individual communities — wanted their children to be educated, and made sure that schools were funded and staffed. There was no busybody in Washington D.C. telling them what to teach! Such a situation would be unthinkable today.

And, yes, I know that black people were the exception. But that’s a separate issue, with its own historical causes.

Henrik R Clausen said...

Hard figures on public spending for all EU countries (except the latest two) can be found at EuroStat (not MiniTruth :).

Henrik R Clausen said...

Prior to the modern all-encompassing Socialist state, civil society — a plurality of institutions that included family, church, local government, voluntary organizations, charities, fraternal orders, guilds, trade associations, and so on, in addition to the national government — provided a web of support that included virtually everyone.

Fascinating. Yes, this is so. Before the state set out to guarantee everything, we had a looser network of institutions that took care of various aspects of life in different ways.

Now, what's the vital difference between the State and the other institutions? Easy: Contribution to the others is basically voluntary, the State not. The State determines its own income and is thus able to extend its resources ad libitum, backed by its own institutions.

I've been toying with the idea that the citizen could mark on his tax return how much he wanted spent on various activities. Like, I might want to spend 10 % of my tax money on defense, 20 % on education, 10 % on healthcare, 10 % on science & research, 10 % on polices, courts etc., nada on 'culture' (I *hate* State-sponsored indoctrination), 15 % on old-age pensions etc., and perhaps leave some of the rest for the government to decide as needed.

That would put significant power back in the hands of the citizen.