Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Suppose a man has two cows....

Question: What is the difference between a socialist and a Tory?

One Possible Answer: A socialist believes in Society. A Tory believes that there are only individuals and their families.

When a Tory gets his tax-bill, he says: 'Wait a minute. I worked hard and saved in order to pay for my family's education. Why should I also pay for the education of the child of some feckless lay-about who has wasted all his father’s money on riotous living?'

Or 'I have taken out private medical insurance for myself and my family. Why should I pay for the health care of wastrels who have taken no such precautions?'

Or 'I don’t have any kids, so why should I pay to educate yours?'

Or 'My daughter didn’t become pregnant before she got married: so why should I have to pay for the housing and childcare for the brazen hussies who did?'

Or 'I don’t have any dependent relatives, and I’m never sick. I don’t own a motor-car, and if I get burgled I shall shoot the burglar myself and charge it to expenses. So why oh why should I have to pay for all these schools, hospitals, roads and policemen who I never use?'

In short: the Tory thinks that the reason that the rich are rich and the poor are poor is because the rich worked hard, earned qualifications, and took risks, and the poor sat at home watching Ant and Dec. If you are going to take money away from the hard-working rich and give it to the lazy poor, why on earth will anyone ever try to better themselves? Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? On yer bike. Bah, humbug!

I paraphrase, slightly.

Not all Tories are necessarily this mean. Some of them are christians. Some of them may even by Christians. If Oliver - a poor, penniless, uneducated orphan - is sent to a free state school, partly financed out of Ebenezer’s taxes, then Ebenezer may very well think that his money has been put to good use, especially if Oliver is one of the hard-working deserving poor, and not one of the Iranian gypsies who are swamping the country. But Ebenezer still thinks that the money has been taken from him and given to Oliver, for Oliver’s benefit. He may wonder why the government doesn't just let him keep his own money and bestow his largess on whatever paupers he felt like.

But a Socialist - one who believes in Society - doesn’t quite see it that way. He agrees, of course, that Ebenezer’s money is going to build Oliver’s school. But he doesn’t think that Ebenezer is the loser or the philanthropist in the transaction. If Oliver wasn’t at school then he would probably be wandering the streets, taking drugs and stealing handkerchiefs from police officers. If he grew up without any education at all, then he might end up as one of the unemployed, in which case Ebenezer’s taxes would go to fund his dole cheque, his housing benefit, his health care. Or if (as the most extreme Ebenenzers would like) there was no dole, housing benefit or free health care then he would presumably starve and drop dead on Ebenzer’s doorstep, making it look untidy and triggering off a cholera epidemic. Or failing that, he'd turn to crime and Ebenezer would have to pay the wages of lots more police-officers and hang-men.

But if Oliver goes to school, then, all things being equal, he will learn stuff, and end up getting some useful job. He might become a plumber, and fix Ebenezer’s boiler; or a bus-driver, and drive Ebenezer’s employees to work, or even, conceivably, a doctor who will save Ebenezer’s life.

So according to socialists, the reason that we take money from Ebenezer is mainly for Ebenezer’s benefit. Because when you have a welfare state -- free doctors, free schools, free libraries, grants for students, welfare payments for the unemployed, council housing for the poor, decent hostels for the homeless, public service broadcasting, legal aid -- you have a happy, healthier, better functioning society and everyone is better off - even those of us who never go to the doctor or travel by train.

Cue loud chorus of 'Jerusalem'.

Note: Having accepted the theory that everything which happens in society affects everything else which happens in society, it is very tempting to say 'and therefore, everything which happens in society is everyone else’s business.' If I smoke cigerattes, and drop dead at an early age, then I am not only harming myself, but harming society. You have to pick up the bill for my medical treatment or my funeral expenses; and while I am being dead, the rest of society isn't benefiting from my labour or skills. So it's the government's job to stop me from smoking. If I yell at my kid, slap it, or allow it to watch 'Doctor Who' before its eighth birthday, then it will grow up traumatized and harm society in all sorts of ways. So it's the government's job to decide how I bring up my children. The same logic which makes socialists want to fund schools and hospitals also makes them want to make laws about what kinds of drugs people can smoke and what kinds of furry animals they can kill. There is at least some truth behind the Tory charge that Socialists are a bunch of interfering busy-bodies who want to set up a Nanny State.

The problem with Tony's election campaign was that he was trying to argue for basically "socialist" ideas – state schools and the health service – on Tory grounds. Just before the election was announced, Tony published a risible "pledge card", indicating what he would do if he were returned to office.

As usual, the pledge card no verbs:

1. Your family better off

2. Your family treated better and faster (*)

3. Your child achieving more

4. Your country's borders protected

5. Your community safer

6. Your children with the best start

Your family better off. Your family treated better. Your child achieving more. Your child with the best start. We are not trying to convince Ebenezer that it would be a good thing to give money to the government to fund the schools, hospitals and social services that poor people will use, for the good of society. We are are trying to convince him that it would be a good idea to give the government money to finance the schools and hospitals that he will use himself.

The trouble with this is that it isn't true: if I want the best education for my child (not yours) then my best bet would be to take him out of the state system altogether. So my best bet is to vote for the tax-cutting party, and use my windfall to pay for a place in a private school with good resources and small classes. The best system of all for my child (not yours) would be the oft-mooted "voucher" system, why I get a piece of paper saying "I promise to be the bearer on demand the price of of fourteen years of state education" and can hand it over to any private establishment which takes my fancy. But this only works if we think that, when your child is dropped in some second rate sink school and forced to eat turkey twizzlers, then this only effects you and doesn't matter to me.

Tory-ism would work fine if the world was fair.

To believe in Tory-ism, you need to convince yourself that that the rich are rich and the poor are poor because – in the long run – the rich deserve to be rich and the poor deserve to be poor. And if the most valuable jobs were always the best paid and if hard work always resulted in wealth and laziness always resulted in poverty, this would be true. We could then dispense with the whole edifice of the welfare state. Given that resources are always finite, it would be perfectly reasonable to say that the person with the money got the health-care, and the person without the money died. If it comes to a choice, the fact that the rich man is rich proves that he has more right to be alive than the poor man.

But the world is not always fair. Some very valuable members of society – teachers, nursers, people who test mobile phone games – are paid very little. People who make no discernible contribution to society – professional footballers, Graham Norton. members of the House of Lords – are paid astronomically large sums of money. And as long as we are talking about luxury items – fast cars and meals in expensive restarunts-- then I am prepared to put up with the fact that richest person gets the best toys. But I am not prepared to accept the idea that David Beckam has more right to be alive than a hospital cleaner, or that he has more right to education and culture, or that he should have an advantage if he gets involved in some legal dispute. I conclude that there should be a very well-resourced national health service and state school system, a heavily subsidised public transport system; low rent council housing for the poor and housing benefit for the very poor; a public service broadcasting system that has a remit to show science documentaries, serious arts programmes and "Doctor Who"; reasonably generous (i.e slightly above subsidence) social-security payment for the unemployed and disabled.... I want to live in a society where everyone gets the essentials regardless of how rich they are, because that is the best kind of society to live in. To achieve this, we all pay slightly more tax. (**)

And no, I am not going send jackbooted stormtroopers out to close down the private schools and burn everyone's BUPA card: I'm sure that the rich will always have their children educated and their hemorrhoids removed in very expensive private institutions. Under my system, the state schools will be so good that they won't get much advantage from doing so. ("I understand that you are going to abolish First Class coaches, Mr. Lenin.""Oh no. I am going to abolish Third Class coaches.")

"But Andrew – that's a pretty equivocal definition of 'socialism' isn't it?"

"Yes. I guess that if one wanted to be pedantic (in the sense of 'correct') one would define socialism as 'An economic system where the state owns and manages all the industry, supposedly in the interests of the population.' (***)"

"Do you believe in that?"

"I think that gas, water, electricity and public transport should either be nationalised or heavily subsidised, but I have no interest in the securing the state ownership of the means of production, no."

"Did the Labour Party ever believe in that?"

"I don't think so. Not unless you count Tony Benn."

"So by socialism you mean 'a robust, re-distributive welfare state'."

"Yeah. And Trade Unions, which we haven't covered."

"So why not say that, instead of bandying the word "socialism" about with gay abandon."

"Er...mostly because it annoys Tony Blair, I guess."

(*) Incidentally: isn't it cool that a Labour pledge card --(cue Welsh accent) a Labour pledge card -- feels the need to 'pledge' that the NHS will "remain free at the point of need." You wonder what else Tony will feel that he has to re-assure us of on the 2009 card.

'We pledge not to bring back hanging,drawing and quartering within the life time of the next Labour Government.'

'We pledge not to drop any nuclear bombs on France, even if President Bush asks us really nicely.'

'We pledge that Tony Blair will under no circumstances discuss theology in the bath with Edwina Currie'

(**) Where, incidentally, I part company with Old Labour and drift slightly into the Howard camp is that I don't see any logical reason why, because the State pays for something, it should also have day-to-day managerial control over it. I think that state schools should be financed out of taxation; but I don't think that it follows that the minister for education should be able to decide what geography text book children read; I think that that hospitals should be funded out of taxation, but I don't think that Tony Blair should be able to arbitrarily decided that breast cancer is a higher priority than prostate cancer.

(***) Contrast with "communism" which says that we would get rid of money and ownership altogether: everyone would work for the benefit of the collective, and the collective would provide him with whatever he needed. From each according to his ability, to each, according to his need. Some cynics think that this might not work in practice.


Anonymous said...

A propos of "no such thing as society", did you see The Explosive 80s last night? It was all about the "right to buy" introduced by Thatcher, and how it transformed Britain. (Of course the very phrase "right to buy" is a masterpiece of political propaganda. Call it "the right to buy" and nobody can be against it without looking like a tyrant; say "We're selling off council houses built using taxpayers' money at up to 75% less than their market value, which will also deprive local councils of the income gained from rent" (which was what it amounted to) and nobody could have been in favour of it without looking like an idiot... and that's without even getting into the social repercussions and the encouragement of a consumer debt culture so dramatic that Britain now has approximately 75% of the consumer debt in the EU...)

It was a popular policy, and some people gained enormously from it (especially property speculators and the proprietors of DIY superstores), but others lost out big-time. The Tories in the programme talked about how people owning their own houses meant they "had a stake in society", but it didn't: it meant they had a stake in a house, which they could then sell and use the proceeds to move to the Algarve. *sigh* But just try persuading Michael Heseltine of that.

Andrew Rilstone said...

"When I wrote V for Vendetta, I imagined that it would take a small nuclear war to turn Britain into a fascist state. I now see that all it took was offering people the chance to by their council houses."
Alan Moore (attrib.)

Andrew Rilstone said...

Were old Labour socialists or democratic socialists or social democrats?

Anonymous said...

"and housing benefit for the very poor"

Actually, I think I'd prefer "those who receive grossly inadequate financial reimbursement vis-a-vis average anticipated weekly expenditure at Starbucks(or sim.)"

Actually, actually, I think I'd prefer a society where income was not used as an indicator of personal taste or priorities. I did a market-research interview for mobile phones a few weeks ago and after telling them my income was categorised as C2. C-bloody-2. I mean, do I sound like I watch Corrie-enders or own a shell-suit?!

Apart from that slight I find myself in total agreement with Andrew.
Worryingly it's the second time that's happened.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, I think when you are referring to Toryism, you are actually describing Liberarianism. The Conservatives, even at their most radical, were never Libertarians - there was no intention to abolish the NHS or state schools (possibly because they knew this wouldn't sell). The emphasis was rather on 'efficiency' and distinguishing between 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor. This, in my mind, marks them as being on the right wing/libertarian end of social democracy.

Thus what we have (certainly post the abolition of Labor's Clause 4) is a contest between competing versions (red, blue, and yellow) of Social Democracy.

Porlock Junior said...

First of all, where you get off sayin there aint no verb in "Your family better off"? You obviously lack a broad-based understanding of the nuances of modern English. Lucky you. Rather, You betta off.

Seriously, though: the funder does have a stranglehold on the fundee, and if he has no priciples, he's going to use it for micromanagement to his own political ends. It's another of these nasty built-in conflicts, like the one you cite, between letting the weak go to the wall and preventing people from hurting themselves.

Over here, where we have a worshipful attitude to Amendments (and I did say we), the First one has a guarantee of free speech and association against interference by the Federal Government. Some law schools are using that to challenge the Feds' regulations that force them to allow unrestricted access to Army recruiters when those recuiters violate the schools' policies in some matters related to equal rights.

Silly of them. They can do anything they like about recruiters, so long as they don't want any government money at all, in any form. Perfectly voluntary regulations, these are. So says the government. The Republicans warned us years ago, when we were supposed to be afraid of Socialists, that if the government started funding education, it would gain control and take away our Freedoms. Now they finally have the power to live up to that pledge.

Anonymous said...

Ignoring the post, and replying to the title...

I always felt there should be a less insufferably smug ending to that "two cows" thing. The bulk of it works quite well as a glib summary of political and economic philosophies, then they go and spoil it all by giving it a "punchline" which turns the entire point into "every system except for capitalism is *actively* stupid, Capitalism is just best. Period."

Alternatives I've considered include:

CAPITALISM: You have three cows. Your neighbour has no cows. You inform your neighbour that he is better off than he would have been if you both had one cow.

CAPITALISM: You have two cows. Your neighbour has no cows. If you drink enough milk, eventually your neighbour will stop feeling thirsty.

Or alternatively...

CAPITALISM: You have two cows, you drink the milk and piss on your neighbour, who has no cows. This is called "trickle down".

Andrew Rilstone said...

I don't know which version you are thinking of: I thought the original was a German joke from the 1930s about Fascism.

Socialism: the state takes one cow and leaves you with one cow.

Communism: the state takes both cows.

Fascism: the state lets you keep both cows, and expects you to take care of them very well. It then takes all the milk.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the version I've heard goes something like:

Socialism: You have two cows, you give one to your neighbour.

Communism: You have two cows, the state takes both, and gives you the milk.

Fascism: You have two cows, the state takes both and sells you the milk.

Capitalism: You have two cows, you sell one and buy a bull.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I had no idea that "two cows" had become a web-meme. I promise you that the one I cited camed from an "A" level text book on the social history of the Third Reich, but it may go back even further.

"Suppose some wite hathe two cowes on farme
The whiche to feede and keepe his kin frome harme
One shalle be ta'en by men of priestly ilke
The king's men steale it not, yet tax ye milke"
("The Farmers Tale")

Porlock Junior said...

Begging indulgence for some US stuff, in the interest of clarification:

emjybee asked,
years ago? You mean--the nineteenth century? That's when public education began in the States, after all. Took the govt. a long time to start restricting our "freedoms" didn't it?

Tsk. I left out a word or two; was referring to the federal government programs which started about 40 years ago pouring more money into what had been largely local educational efforts before then. The trend was much hated and feared by the party that's now putting the squeeze on law schools that don't support it.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the difference between a Tory and a Socialist is that Tories who have experienced some of our country's worst poverty understand the desperation and hopelessness that state-dependence creates.

Isn't that rather wobbly logic. It's like objecting to hospitals on the grounds that illness is a terrible thing.

I do understand the argument that the welfare state leads to a sense of dependance, but I don't buy it. Benefits don't stop people from getting jobs.

Anonymous said...

I did a market-research interview for mobile phones a few weeks ago and after telling them my income was categorised as C2. C-bloody-2. I mean, do I sound like I watch Corrie-enders or own a shell-suit?!

Colin, we sort of got the book wet on the way over and a few pages are smeered...could you translate this into pan-english for me?

Classic market research categorisation of social classes (in the UK at least) runs from A (rich and posh) to D or E, I forget (whichever it is, it means poor and unskilled working class or underclass). These can be subdivided into levels 1 and 2; C often is.

The classic key divide is between C1 and C2 - basically, above that line traditionally has decent disposable income and buys luxury goods, so "ABC1" is the broad group that most advertisers want to catch.

"Corrie-enders"... Coronation Street and East Enders are popular mass-market soap operas over here. "Shell suits" are, umm, not sure what the Americanese is for those. "Track suit" was an old British term. The sort of baggy top-and-trousers thing worn by sportsmen to keep warm when not actually active, but nowadays worn by what I can best describe offhand as "the British equivalent of white trash" (i.e. C2 or below) seemingly all the time.

Anonymous said...

"If people don't want to work, they don't have to. They can live comfortably off state benefits without having to work, and as a consequence, over time, become despondent because of it."

Nonsense. One can live - more or less - off state benefits, but far from comfortably. Having done so myself for most of last year (and intermittently before that), this definition of 'comfortable' obviously doesn't include having any leisure activities other than an unlicensed TV, being able to pay bills (I am still in considerable debt from bills left unpaid last year) or anything else. Have you ever *tried* living on forty five pounds a week?

Anonymous said...

Andrew Hickey said:
"Nonsense. One can live - more or less - off state benefits, but far from comfortably."

Just wanted to agree with you. Living of State benefit for me meant:
-Doing my shopping within an hour of closing to get the lowest price-reductions.
-Regarding a visit to a cafe as a luxury.
-Planning weeks in advance in order to buy a new pair of shoes.

Anonymous said...

1) Very few people who claim benefits only get £45 per week.

True, If you factor in Housing Benefit it could be a whopping £74 a week.

You obviously took benefits because you could no longer work for whatever reason. People who prefer not to work claim everything - in my experience fraudulently, and get far more.

But now you're moving the goalposts. You're going from "welfare creates a sense of dependancy" yo "welfare fraud creates a sense of dependancy". These are very, very different propositions. You're confuing a crime with an institution.

I know plenty of people who meet regularly to discuss what benefits they have recently got, and how to go about getting them. Benefits they are not, in all actuality, entitled to.

And how is this in any way an indictment of the actual *system*?

2)'Comfortably' is a subjective term. To you, comfortably might be being able to have a coffee without having to think about it, for others it may be having enough to eat and buy drink.

Okay, so now you're shifting the goalposts even more. It's gone from "you can live quite comfortably off state benefits" to "you can live, by defrauding state benefits, in a manner that some would consider comfortable."

Both points lead back to my original argument which is that benefits lead to cultures of shame and hopelessness.

That isn't an argument. It's a statement. You have, indeed, utterly rejected the concept of "argument", instead insisting that your personal experience makes you uniquely qualified to make blanket proclaimations about complex social issues. You continue to hold this position despite the fact that several of your interlocutors on this thread (myself included) have **actually lived off state benefits**.

I personally couldn't care less that my tax money is going to these people I know. If it were doing good, I would be all for it.

But I look around the area where I live and see the hopelessness and shame of those who take benefits instead of working, and the calamity that befalls their life and the effect that it has on their children.

And you honestly think that all the socioeconomic problems in your area are the direct result of the benefits system?

People who want to work will work if they can. People who don't want to work, won't work no matter how you try to force them. If the people in your area weren't defrauding the state, they'd be some other sort of dodge.

People are supposed to work and provide for their family if they are able to do so - not because it means I can pay less taxes, but because its how families are supposed to work.

Oh is it. You don't think that maybe the family is too broad a concept to sum up in such simplistic terms?

Anonymous said...

Not at all. If the benefits weren't available then the alternative for providing for your family is work or crime.

Benefit fraud is a crime.

Moreover, I'm not confusing a crime with an institution. If the institution is such that it can be so easily defrauded then the problem is as much the system's as it is the person's.

So if I leave my door on the latch, and I get burgled, I'm to blame as much as the burglar?

A system that either relies on the integrity of human beings, or is not robust enough to account for the lack of integrity in human beings, should immediately be scrutinised.

And where, in any post on this thread, has anybody said "the benefits system is so perfect as to be beyond scrutiny". If all you are saying is that the benefit system needs a certain degree of rigour to it, then neither I nor (I suspect) anybody reading this weblog will argue with you. What you seem to be saying, however, is that the very fact that benefits are available does more harm than good. This is what I take issue with.

The two statements are equivilant.

No they are not. Fraud is not part of the state benefit package any more than kickbacks are part of a policeman's salary.

I could live quite comfortably off state benefits if I wanted.

But could you live quite comfortably off the state benefits to which you would be legally entitled.

I haven't placed the restrictions on state benefits that you would like me to have done so that I would be contradicting myself - I simply said that one can live quite comfortably off state benefits if one chooses. And it's true.

So long as you define "living off state benefits" as "living by defrauding the benefit system", your argument is impeccable. If you do not accept the idea that somehow "benefits" and "benefit fraud" are literally identical, then your entire position collapses.

Quite simply because the system lends itself to corruption, and this is, in practice, the end result.

So because the existing benefits system can be defrauded, therefore benefits are a bad thing?

I think I've made it quite apparent from the beginning that my personal experiences were the basis of my opinion - I have never claimed to be "uniquely qualified" or anything like it. Additionally, personal experience is inseperable from the process of argument formation, and since this isn't a formal debate as far as I'm aware, its perfectly legitimate for discussion.

However you have directly stated that "this is an emperical observation - not a logical one". Without logic there can be no actual discussion. I certainly cannot say that you have not observed what you have observed, I can only disagree with the conclusions you draw from your empirical observations. If you reject any form of argument beyond "I have observed: therefore", then this entire discussion has to end.

Moreover, you don't seem to understand the difference between an argument and a statement, which is quite worrying. An argument, even if badly made, is still an argument.

Technically true, but as you say, this is not a formal debate. Technically argument from authority, argument post-hoc, and all the other fatally flawed non-arguments that aren't worth bothering with still count as "arguments."

My argument has plainly been that "state benefits create dependency which creates despondancy". That isn't a statement, it's an argument if supported by any sort of evidence, in this case, my personal experience.

No. Your argument has been "I have observed that people who draw state benefits become dependant and despondant; therefore state benefits create dependancy and despondancy." Merely stating your position is not an argument.

No. Then again, I never claimed that they were. I claimed that those who chose not to work because they would rather live of state benefits have a profound effect on their children and their society.

And you claimed, or at least strongly implied, that all of these effects result directly from the availability of benefits.

I never claimed "all" problems were a result of this, I never claimed that there wasn't a problem that led people to do this in the first place - it was simply an observation and I'd appreciate you not creating silly representations about what I've said and knocking them down for what would appear to be your own self-gratification.

Hyperbole. As you say, this is not a formal debate. However you did state, directly, that "benefits lead to cultures of shame and hopelessness". Not "contribute" not "may, if abused faclilitate the creation of", "lead to."

And how do you know this?

I don't. Neither do you know that they wouldn't.

I've met quite a few people who have been caught in their state defrauding due to having been "told on" and have just went out and got a job because they need money to go out at the weekend.

You've known some fraudsters who, having been caught committing fraud, had to go and earn an honest living. Again, this is not an indictment of the benefit system.

Now, again, this is nothing more than my personal experience, but I've got no reason to think that it is unique.

But nor do you have reason to think that it applies to everybody on benefits.

Just out of interest, what percentage of people claiming state benefits would you consider to be fraudsters? Assuming it's more than 30%, which of me, Colin, and Andrew do you think was fiddling the system?

I wasn't trying to "sum up the family concept", I was simply saying that, in general, it is the role of parents to provide for their family by working.

The nature and purpose of the family and parenthood is another topic altogether.

Anonymous said...

Bit late to the party, I'm afraid, and without a whole lot to contribute other than "that was enlightening and a good read."

I've always referred to the baggy exercise-wear as a 'sweatsuit,' or separately 'sweatshirt' and 'sweatpants.'