Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Suppose a man has two cows (cont.)
The intrinsic dignity of labour (as opposed to Labour)
I am not convinced by the theory which says that it is better or righter for children to be supported by wages that their parents earn from work rather than in some other way.
If I won the lottery, or discovered an oil well at the bottom of my garden, or was a member of the House of Lords, then I would stop working and spend more time with my children. I don't think that they would necessarily be worse off because they had a father was independently wealthy / one of the idle rich.
I can conceive of happy children raised in a hippy commune where no-one does much work, and unhappy ones raised by a horny handed son of toil.
Granted that there are useful jobs which need doing, the best way for them to get done is for someone to do them. Our present system, in which a person goes and exchanges his skills and labour for wages, seems to be a pretty good one, although not necessarily the best possible.
I tend to agree with Oscar that the human race would be much happier if machines became so efficient that hardly anyone would have to do any work.
As long as there are jobs which need doing, it is a Bad Thing for the state to pay someone to stay at home and do nothing.
If there are no jobs which need doing -- if supply exceeds demand in the labour market -- then I don't necessarily think that it is a Good Thing to artificially create jobs for the unemployed. You could create a million new jobs tomorrow by saying "Self-service petrol stations are henceforth banned: every petrol pump must have an attendant." But I see no advantage of that compared with paying people dole cheques.
It follows that any welfare system under which the unemployed are financially better off than the employed is a Bad Thing, since it creates a financial dis-incentive to find a job.
If, in a given system, you find that unemployment benefit pays better than some salaried work, your options are, pretty clearly, decrease unemployment benefit, or increase the pay of some salaried employment.
Unemployment benefit, would, on my system, amount to the absolute minimum you need to live and participate in society. (Well above subsidence, but not much left over for luxuries. TV, books (*) and a newspaper are, on my view, not luxuries.) Any company paying its staff less than this amount should (and, I think, probably is) be regarded as committing a criminal offence.
Welfare dependency can therefore be solved by the simple expedient of "slightly increasing the national minimum wage to a level of about 25% more than unemployment benefit."
That's that one sorted out. God, I'm good.
I am not convinced by the theory that it is easy for individuals to generate huge incomes for themselves by defrauding the unemployment benefit services. The most serious large scale benefit fraud is perpetrated by organised criminals, who have run scams where landlords manage to claim housing benefit from fictitious tenants living in fictitious property. This is a Bad Thing, but nothing to do with the poor becoming dependent on welfare. And, by the way, it won't be solved by charging me £40 for a compulsory I.D card.
The most common kind of benefit fraud that private individuals are accused of is continuing to claim benefit while they are, in fact, in work. This is only possible if you are doing casual, cash in hand type work, but it must be relatively common. It is obviously Very Naughty but doesn't quite fit into the "people who have never worked" model.
£45 is the basic benefit for a single person. You can also, by an extremely convoluted system, get your council tax paid as well. (One office in the town hall sends out cheques so that citizens can send them back to other offices in the same town hall!) You can also get your rent paid, if you are living in a reasonably sized flat, or a contribution to your mortgage interest.
I am trying to think what else I claimed while out of work.
Reduced dental fees.
Free train fares to job interviews out of town (very useful)
One-off "hardship payments" if you can make out a case that you need, say, a new pair of shoes. (I never claimed that, myself.)
If I was going to do a scam, the best I can think of is getting someone to send fake job-offers from Scotland in order to get a free train ride. But they don't give you the money, just a little note that says "This person can travel free between these stations." Maybe you could somehow sell the warrants on the black-market.
I am genuinely interested to know what kind of frauds people are supposed to be doing to get very high payments out of the system.
The £45 is for a single person. If you have dependents, then you can get very much higher sums of money -- X pounds for each wife, and Y pounds for each child. You might be able to claim for imaginary children, but social services would catch up with you very quickly.
The tabloids occasionally get excited by the existence of someone (often a dark-skinned someone) who has 17 children and is therefore getting a huge amount of money out of the state. They conclude that the evil working classes are all dropping litters of babies all over the place simply in order to claim increased benefit. I have never been convinced. The alternative is to cut off the offender's benefit, whereupon his children either starve to death or get taken into state children's homes. Which sounds a lot like "Using an intercontinental ballistic missile to crack a nut."
Incidentally, did you ever see "Cathy Come Home"?
The Undeserving Poor
Ebenezer often pretends to believe that there are plenty of jobs for everyone, and the unemployed are simply lazy people who refuse to work. This is very unlikely to be true.In the 80s, when Mad Norman made his famous "on yer bike" remark, there simply were not very many jobs in some areas. Mrs. Thatcher was keeping unemployment artificially high as part of her policy to destroy the Trades Unions and therefore depower the Labour Party (a policy which largely succeeded.)
After Gordon Brown's first budgie, the Daily Mail got a massive stiffy because it thought that Brown was going to "force" lazy unemployed people to work whether they wanted to or not. But nothing appeared to come of this, presumably because most unemployed people want a job, but can't find one.
I have had periods out of work under Thatcher, Major, and Blair, and each time, you had to demonstrate that you were making a reasonable effort to look for work. Under Thatcher, you had to bring copies of job applications with you each week when you "signed on". Blair has introduced a radical new scheme called "the New Deal" where you have to bring a folder of job applications to a special interview you attend every three months. If you are unemployed long term, they hassle you (or help you, depending on your view point) in other ways. The idea that the unemployed are encouraged to remain unemployed is simply one of Ebenezer's fantasies.
But. Let us suppose we found an example of the a lazy person who really doesn't want to work. Are we saying that we would be prepared to cut off his benefit and put him on the streets selling Big Issue? Would this, in fact, be preferable to letting his rip us all off for £45 a week? More to the point, are we going to say to the genuinely poor person who is genuinely looking for a job "Sorry. You can't have any help, because there is a lazy hippy up the road?"
I agree that the best way of helping the undeserving poor is to address the conditions which made them poor and undeserving. This probably involves educating them, improving their health care, improving their standard of housing, giving them better mobility so they can look for jobs out of town. The best way of doing this is, er, through the welfare state.
(*) It makes no difference whether the unemployed have money to buy books, or access to really good free libraries.