IDS is the heir to Beveridge

A jolly nice chap

“Iain Duncan Smith is scum” announced a former friend of mine on her Facebook wall recently. Actually, as anyone who has met him will attest, IDS is a perfectly affable chap. But he is sceptical of the present size and nature of Britain’s welfare state. This, apparently, makes him “scum”.

Between 2001 and 2007 British government spending increased by 54 percent in real terms. In nominal terms the coalition is actually raising spending even further, from £661 billion in 2010 to a projected £729 billion in 2015. What cutting is being done is coming from above target inflation so that, in real terms, spending will fall by 2.7 percent. And remember, that’s a real terms cut of 2.7 percent after a real terms increase of 54 percent.

But the reaction from sections of the left to this bare snipping has, as with my former friend, been nothing short of demented.

Nick Cohen frequently says very sensible things but at the end of the day he writes for the Observer and he has to sing for his supper – hence a steady flow of silly articles about barely existent ‘austerity’ and mythical ‘Tory cuts’. In a recent article he wrote that “Iain Duncan Smith’s universal credit poses a serious threat to women’s independence.” You actually have to ask how independent someone who is dependent on state welfare actually is in the first place, but to have done so would have been to intrude on the usual orgy of hysteria which accompanied the article.

One of Cohen’s Facebook friends commented, “Yes, yes, yes. Duncan Smith has a nasty agenda, fired by his own sense of Christian mission. A very creepy man.” Another warned that “The Tories especially are making attacks on the poorest, that are remarkably similar to the sort of thing the eugenicists of the nineteenth century used to say.” Sections of the left are currently consumed with lunatic levels of fear and loathing.

It never seems to occur to these people that someone could question the present size and nature of Britain’s welfare state from any motivation other than pure evil. It never enters their minds that someone might be critical of the welfare state as it stands for the simple reason that it is a massively expensive failure.

“Flat rate of subsistence benefit; flat rate of contribution”;

“Unemployment benefit will…normally be subject to a condition of attendance at a work or training centre after a certain period”;

“National assistance (a means tested benefit) is an essential subsidiary method in the whole plan…The scope of assistance will be narrowed from the beginning and will diminish”;

“Assistance…must be felt to be something less desirable then insurance benefit; otherwise the insured persons get nothing for their contributions. Assistance therefore will be given always subject to proof of needs and examination of means; it will be subject also to any conditions as to behaviour which may seem likely to hasten restoration of earning capacity”;

“The proposal to adjust benefit according to the rent actually paid by individuals should, provisionally, be rejected”.

These quotes, recommending conditions on eligibility for welfare, proposing a reduction of benefits over time, supporting the notion that benefits must not match employment income, and rejecting housing benefit, do not come from someone like Iain Duncan Smith who the contemporary left would brand as evil. They come, in fact, from the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services of 1942, written by William Beveridge, which laid the foundations for the welfare state.

Beveridge’s plan was, as James Bartholomew writes,

“very simple. Everyone would make flat-rate contributions to a national insurance scheme. Those who fell ill, became unemployed or reached retirement age would, in return, receive flat rate payments. That is it. The rest was detail”.

John Maynard Keynes reportedly told his friend Beveridge: “The Chancellor of the Exchequer should thank his lucky stars that he has got off so cheap”.

Keynes was wrong. Over the years Beveridge’s safety net became a vast hammock. Since the welfare state got under way in earnest in 1948, social security spending as a percentage of GDP has increased from 4 percent to nearly 14 percent; a 250 percent increase.

Source: IFS

Those on the right and this coalition government are often accused of launching an attack on the welfare state bequeathed us by Beveridge and the Attlee government. That ship has long since sailed. Beveridge’s welfare state died decades ago when it became the bloated, expensive, counterproductive monster it is today. And it wasn’t the right that killed it, the left did.

There is a new film out by dreary, overrated Marxist Ken Loach titled The Spirit of ’45. In it, among other things, Loach calls for the Brits of 2013 to resist coalition welfare reforms and redouble their commitment to state welfare spending. But that is not the spirit of 1945. The spirit of 1945 was of work, contribution, and insurance.

And that appears to be the spirit of 2013 too. As a recent report by the National Conversation found: “Wherever they stood on the political spectrum, we were told that the welfare system was broken, and that no one party held the answer to fixing it… A key concern, shared by respondents from different backgrounds, was the degree to which the modern welfare system had moved away from Beveridge’s original plans for social insurance. With the gradual erosion of Beveridge’s contributory principle, governments found themselves paying out ever larger welfare disbursements to people who had never paid into the system”.

Sensing this even Ed Miliband has begun making noises about “recognising contribution”.

Iain Duncan Smith is not “scum”. Rather, unlike Loach and Cohen and his loony friends, he is the heir to Beveridge. If the spirit of ’45 lives on anywhere, it is in the coalition’s welfare reforms.

This article originally appeared at The Commentator

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The relationship between welfare and immigration

Home comforts: Firuta Vasile's initial request for benefits had been rejected by the local council

You give immigrants a bad name

The influx of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants expected from January 1st 2014 has lately seen Britain’s politicians running round like headless chickens trying to prevent the obvious and predictable results of their previous actions (or inactions). The idea that people from these countries might come to the UK and avail of its generous welfare system has triggered concerns about immigration. Should we not, instead, be worried about welfare?

Classical liberals and many on ‘the right’ more generally would complain if government prevented a person from Bolton taking a job in Southampton. What right would a politician have to interfere in the mutually agreed employment decision of an employee and an employer? But if this is so, why should government have any more right to prevent a person from Juarez or Lahore taking a job in Minneapolis or Sheffield?

Indeed, if the government erected capital controls such as existed in the post war period to stop people shipping their wealth abroad, many on ‘the right’ would decry an act of confiscatory socialism. But why should the freedom of movement be granted to capital and denied to labour?

Immigration is an area of public policy rarely treated coherently. ‘The left’ frequently defend the free movement of labour (recently anyway) but oppose the free movement of capital. From ‘the right’ it is often the opposite. A common opinion, in pubs and taxi cabs at any rate, is that immigrants come here to sponge off our welfare state and take our jobs, a contradictory sentiment often expressed by the same person in the same monologue.

Some immigrants do travel to the UK to gorge themselves in the trough of its lavish welfare state. I wrote last January of Firuta Vasile, a woman who has apparently done little but leech off the British taxpayer since arriving from Romania in 2008.

Indeed, stories on BBC London about the lack of affordable housing in the capital are often illustrated with an interview with an immigrant demanding that more ‘affordable housing’ be made available by the state. But there is probably no shortage of affordable accommodation wherever they came from and the high prices of London are simply a market signal saying: This place is full up.

Immigrants like Ms Vasile give a bad name to the majority who do travel to Britain wanting to work. But, besides that, they are eroding support for the welfare state itself.

For all the noble notions of a brotherhood of man it remains a fact that people, in the main, feel more empathy with those who are more like them than those who aren’t. We generally care more about people who speak our language, dress like us, worship the same God (or none), watch the same TV programmes etc, than we do about people who don’t. This is one reason why the British or American media will devote hours of coverage to the deaths of American children in Newtown but spend little if any time on the Pakistani or Afghan children killed in drone strikes.

Regrettable as it may be, it is a fact of life that our empathy decreases as our differences with the person being empathised with increase.

The effects of this for a welfare state are as obvious as the effects of throwing your doors open while laying on a banquet of benefits. While people might be quite willing to pay towards a system that they believe is going to help people like themselves they will be considerably less willing to pay towards a system that they perceive benefits people who have very little in common with them. As Stuart Soroka writes

“Immigration has the potential to raise powerful challenges to the political legitimacy of the welfare state. Immigration can unsettle the historical conceptions of community, which define those who are ‘us’, recognized members of existing networks of rights and obligation, and those who are ‘strangers’ or ‘others’ whose needs seem less compelling. According to many commentators, the growing presence of newcomers, especially ethnically distinct newcomers, may erode the sense of social solidarity on which welfare states are constructed”

Or, as Milton Freidman put it: “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state”. The mass immigration overseen by the Labour government which saw millions enter Britain, 371,000 of whom are claiming benefits, has been one of the major factors in the decline in support for the welfare state in Britain. It has led to the serious consideration of a contributory element to welfare.

The answer is that government has no basis in rights to interfere with migration, but neither does it have a duty to subsidise it. If people want to go and work in Britain or the United States, and they can find employment, they should not be impeded. But if they cannot find employment the government should not hand them taxpayers’ money or goods and services purchased with that money.

There is a choice between immigration and welfare. The irony is that by choosing immigration a government of the left did more to undermine the welfare state than ‘the right’ ever did.

This article originally appeared at The Commentator

The Workfare case

Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson objected to their placements on the Coalition’s flagship workfare schemes

“I haaaaaaate you, that is sooooooooo unfair”

A fair bit has been said about today’s appeals court decision that the government’s Workfare scheme is illegal. Much of it has been rather wide of the mark.

First, the plaintiff, Cait Reilly, does not have a problem with performing unpaid work. She was, after all, volunteering unpaid in a museum. The problem was that Ms Reilly liked working in the museum. She didn’t like working in Poundland.

Well, welcome to the real world Ms Reilly. Most of us do not spend our days doing what we would enjoy if we had the choice, that is why the world is not full of Premiership footballers and ballerinas.

The fact is that in the future the sorts of jobs Britain is likely to generate will be in Poundlands. Our economy discourages the capital investment and our education system wrecks the human capital which enable people to work more productively and it is that, not minimum wage legislation, which dictates whether wages will rise.

Secondly, Workfare worked in Ms Reilly’s case. She says “I now work part time in a supermarket” Ask yourself; when Tesco’s were interviewing her which experience do you think impressed them most? The museum or Poundland? In this case Workfare worked.

Labour and the welfare bill

Labour-1957-poster

…and I’ve got some magic beans to go with that

Last week Britain’s coalition government, a bunch of “ideologically-crazed demagogues”, launched a “brutal assault” on “the poor”. Or so said Owen Jones. So what form did this heinous act of heartless, senseless barbarity take? It voted to increase some benefits at the rate that earnings increase rather than at the (sometimes higher) rate that prices increase.

That’s it.

The hysterical tone in which much of the left conducts debate in this country is crippling our ability to have a serious discussion about how to bring under control a government debt which is set to have risen by 60 percent by the end of this parliament even after so called ‘austerity’. Eminently sensible measures on Housing Benefit or legal aid have brought predictions of a “final solution” or the end of justice in Britain.

The simple, central fact of British political life is that the government’s debt is rocketing by £326 million every single day. If even reasonable changes to Housing Benefit, legal aid, or welfare, which consumes one third of all British government spending, generate such apoplectic fury from the left, how on earth are we supposed to make even a start on tackling our out of control debt? It’s a serious question. Too serious, it appears, for the likes of Owen Jones.

But what was Labour up to while the coalition was engaged in this Blitzkrieg on the poor? It was making impassioned speeches and voting for benefits to increase faster than the wages which pay for them.

In truth the divide between those who pay for and those who receive benefits is no longer as clear as it once was. We have always had universal benefits paid to even the rich, hence the spectacle of a journalist from a family on a six-figure income wailing about having her Child Benefit taken away.

But besides that we have another toxic legacy of Gordon Brown. During Labour’s time in office he erected a thicket of benefits so baffling, vast, and labyrinthine that much of the country ended up snared in it. Ever greater numbers of people in work started to receive welfare and, bizarrely, Labour regard this as an achievement.

The thinking behind it was cynical. Like some mob boss in Vegas putting everyone on the payroll so no one would ever grass him up to the Feds, Brown reasoned that if he could play sugar daddy to a sufficiently large section of the British public by showering them with benefits they would never vote him out of office. It’s why the number of British households receiving more in benefits than they paid in taxes rose from 43.8 percent in 2000/2001 to 48 percent in 2007/2008. That, you’ll remember, was a period of economic growth.

Compare the essential fiscal promises of the two parties. The Conservatives say ‘Vote for us and you can keep what you earn’; Labour says ‘Vote for us and we’ll take money off someone else and give it to you’

Labour, quite simply, would cease to have any point if it wasn’t for the confiscation of wealth and its redistribution to its supporters. Thus we had the nauseating spectacle of David Miliband, who earned £125,000 for 15 days work as a director of Sunderland, accusing the welfare bill of being “rancid” as he argued for people on an average wage of £26,500 to pay more than the £3,100 per year they already do towards welfare.

Two-time Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said that “The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing.” It is now worse than nothing. It is a cynical, vote-buying machine, funded with other people’s money. That’s what they trooped through the lobbies for last week.

This article originally appeared at The Commentator

2015: Time for Cameron to ‘hug a Ukipper’?

The Battle for Britain

In 2005 the Conservative party crashed to its third defeat at the hands of Tony Blair’s Labour. Michael Howard delayed his resignation to give the Conservatives time to reflect on how they had reached this sorry state and ponder what they should do about it.

Looking back to their last days in power before the 1997 election defeat Conservatives saw three factors at play. First, was their bitter civil war over the European Union; second, the steady stream of sleaze scandals; and third, general public boredom with a Conservative government which had been around since 1979.

But by 2005 most of these issues had gone. Blair had neutered Europe as an issue for the time being by promising a referendum on British membership of the euro. In government, Labour had proved just as sleazy as the Conservatives were. And, after eight years of Labour government, the Conservatives looked ever so slightly fresher.

And still they lost. Even against a Labour government which had bent the facts to send British soldiers into Iraq to remove weapons of mass destruction which weren’t actually there, they had lost. Again the question: why?

A bit of research emerged at around this time which showed that people generally approved of Conservative party policies until they found out they were Conservative party policies. To one group of Bright Young Things this indicated that the problem was one of marketing and the search was on for a salesman. Step forward David Cameron.

Cameron had only been in Parliament for four years before he decided to run for the Party leadership. But he had plenty of political experience; indeed, he had done little else since university. He went straight into a job with the Conservative party. From there he became Director of Corporate Affairs (whatever that is) for a TV company, a role which appears to have involved talking to politicians a lot.

It was this presumed media savvy which won Cameron the leadership in 2005. The party wanted someone to put an acceptable face on apparently popular policies. It didn’t want to be Theresa May’s “nasty party” anymore and Cameron promised to make them “feel good about being Conservatives again”

He and the Cameroons who gathered around him had reached political maturity during Blair’s reign. They had seen how Blair had taken over a party which couldn’t even win an election against John Major in the middle of a recession and comfortably won three elections on the bounce. They believed Blair had managed this by ‘detoxifying’ the Labour brand, by taking on and ridding the party of its madder elements. They determined to do the same for the Conservatives.

On one level this meant delving into Blair’s bag of media tricks. Call Me Dave gave speeches without notes, took his jacket off, went sledging, rolled his sleeves up, hugged hoodies, and at the 2006 party conference he made more wardrobe changes than Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.

But on a deeper level the Cameroons were searching for a ‘Clause IV Moment’, the symbolic point when you tame your extremists and embrace electability. Their calculation was that they could bully and pick fights with their ‘right wing’ and in doing so they would attract support from the fabled ‘centre’. After all, they reasoned, any right wingers who didn’t enjoy being bullied by them had, like Richard Gere, “nowhere else to go

But there was a problem. By 1994 the Labour left had been so utterly discredited that the original Clause IV Moment was simply an overdue act of euthanasia. In theory, and in practice, during the post war period the left wing orthodoxy of high tax and even higher public spending had been exposed as the economic suicide it remains.

By contrast no such thing happened to the ideas of the Conservative right. Indeed, the last few years have seen one formerly ‘controversial’ view of theirs after another be resoundingly vindicated. Immigration is too high. Government is spending too much. The euro is a disaster.

Ultimately the Cameroon strategy failed. After five years of ‘rebranding’, against one of the most incompetent administrations in history, and in the middle of a recession, in May 2010 the Conservatives failed to win their fourth election in a row.

And those right wingers didn’t just sit around meekly soaking up the punishment Cameron dished out to them in a vain effort to impress the Guardianistas. Lots of them buggered off to UKIP. And how did Cameron, the master political operator (sic), respond? He was gratuitously rude to them. Again. In the Telegraph last week Dan Hodges wrote that come 2015 “the vast bulk of [Ukip’s] remaining support will come home, reluctantly, to David Cameron.” No, it won’t. And why should it if Cameron keeps abusing them to solicit a favourable glance from Polly Toynbee?

Cameron’s support rises when he pursues Conservative policies; the EU veto and welfare reform, for example. Now, I’m no Central Office genius, but perhaps there’s something in this? Perhaps it’s time for Cameron to stop his fruitless flirting with some mythical centre (which is, in reality, just a punji trap with the sharpened heads of George Monbiot and Mehdi Hasan at the bottom) and remember that he’s a Conservative?

The long term Cameroon strategy of replacing the Conservative right with the Labour right will fail. Its hysterical reaction to even the mild fiscal medicine administered by the coalition demonstrates that Cameron will never find enough votes from that quarter to replace the real Conservatives he sent off in Nigel Farage’s direction.

As 2015 approaches Cameron might find he needs to Hug a Ukipper. If he carries on this pathetic baiting they’ll probably tell him to get stuffed.

Recipient of handouts defends handouts

Writer Angela Epstein with three of her four children

Just £60 a month can keep a journalist’s child in shoes

I have read a great deal of utter rubbish about the coalition government’s ‘cuts‘. But the article in the Daily Mail by Angela Epstein might be the most cretinous, whiny, self interested bucket of bilge I’ve yet come across.

Mrs Epstein and her husband earn well over £100,000 a year. This puts them in the top 15% of earners. Yet they receive Child Benefit of “£20.30 a week for the first child and £13.40 for each extra one until they are 18” for their four kids (three boys, 19,17, and 14, and a girl, 8).

It might seem odd that people as rich as this receive state benefits at all. You can thank the idea of ‘universal’ benefits. When the welfare state was introduced it was thought that making poverty a condition for receiving benefits might make those who received them feel bad. So, to spare their feelings, it was decided that certain benefits would be dished out to everybody who qualified regardless of income. Thus, a Lord I know who owns a collections of stately homes once told me he was being paid Winter Fuel Allowance to heat his palace.

Obviously, with the British governments finances in such dreadful shape, this principle ought to be one of the first to be junked. And, however imperfectly, it is being. You’d also think that it would be one of the least controversial cuts. Not a bit of it. Ed Miliband, a man who never saw a bandwagon he didn’t try and jump on, supports benefits for millionaires. It’s generally a good thing to be on the opposite side of an argument to Ed Miliband. And its rather pleasing to be on the opposite to Mrs Epstein too.

The first thing to note about Mrs Epstein’s article is that, never once, does she use the word ‘taxpayer’. Instead you have a phrase like this; “There was something quite heartening to think the State was directly responsible for ensuring my children had shoes”

First, isn’t Mrs Epstein primarily responsible for ensuring her children had shoes? Since when did the State become some sort of Daddy Warbucks who will take care of us all and abrogate us of all responsibility to look after ourselves and our families no matter how rich we are?

And what is this ‘State’ that is apparently responsible for making sure Mrs Epstein’s kids don’t go barefoot? The State has no money with which to buy shoes for Mrs Epstein’s kids other than that it takes from the taxpayer, most of whom earn less than Mrs Epstein. Yet she can write, apparently without a hint of shame, “Despite earning a good salary as a journalist and broadcaster and being married to a chartered accountant, the Government money lands in my account each month. I accept it happily, without so much as a twitch of embarrassment” Its not government money though, it’s taxpayers money.

The whining self justification continues. You get a statement like this “I understand that we are going through a time of great financial difficulty in this country and that sacrifices must be made to get us back on track” followed by statements like this “But why should my children lose out” and this “The State had pledged its support for all parents. Why should that change?” In other words, yes, sacrifices will have to be made. By someone else.

As Margaret Thatcher famously said,

“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”

The people primarily responsible for putting shoes on the feet of children are the parents of those children. If they cannot then the State, with taxpayer funds, can step in. But the belief that the State represents an inexhaustible teat at which we are all entitled to suck on endlessly is part of what got us into this mess. Britain spends more on welfare than the entire GDP of Austria, a prosperous nation of 8.4 million people.

“I’m not talking about a tax loophole or state backhander that allows the streetwise to filch from an already over-committed welfare state” Mrs Epstein says. Yes, that’s exactly what she’s talking about.

Crisis of statism, not capitalism

In search of that magic money tree

t might not have been the ‘crisis of capitalism’ which some have been waiting so long for, but it is widely thought that the last few years certainly represent a “crisis of capitalism”. But if you think of capitalism as a system whereby profits and losses acting unhindered by the hand of government guide capital to its most productive uses, this is difficult to sustain.

The sectors which blew up and took the rest of the economy with them were riddled with intervention. Banks have their capital adequacy rates set and their bad investments covered by government. The housing market is kept inflated with all manner of tax breaks and politically motivated distortions like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Community Reinvestment Act. Behind it all interest rates are set by a small panel of political appointees, much as the price of alum keys was set in the Soviet Union.

But as we see violence on the streets of Athens and Madrid, the Occupy protests in the United States, and unadulterated rage on the pages of The Guardian’s Comment is Free (Cif), there is certainly some sort of crisis afoot. It is, however, a crisis of big government.

Over the last few decades governments throughout the western world have made extravagant spending commitments. In Ireland the welfare budget was tripled. In Greece pastry chefs, radio announcers, hairdressers, and steam bath masseurs were included among 600 professions deemed so “arduous and perilous” that workers could retire at 50 on a state pension of 95 percent of their final salary.

But it wasn’t just small basket case economies doing it; big basket case economies were doing it too. France decided that its workers could work no more than 35 hours a week and still generate the wealth to pay for everyone to retire at 60 and spend a third of their lives as state pensioners. In the United States the Bush administration launched the largest expansion of Federal spending since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program of the 1960s. In Britain the Labour government increased spending by more than half in six years.

As long as you didn’t look either too closely or too far ahead, these massive spending commitments looked just about affordable as long as there was plenty of money to spend. And there was. In Britain tax receipts rose by 40 percent between 2001 and 2007. In the United States, Federal tax revenues rose by 30 percent between 2000 and 2007. French tax revenue increased by 30 percent between 2002 and 2008.

But these were the effects of the bubble. These were taxes swelled by property values, house sales, and bank profits on those house sales and the myriad ancillary transactions such as securitisation. With the bursting of that bubble that wealth is gone, if it was even there in first place, and it is not coming back. Nor should it.

That does mean, however, that lots of the extravagant government spending promises made before the bust now stand revealed for what they are; unaffordable in the absence of bubble taxation. And given the undesirability of bubbles, that just makes them unaffordable full stop. No amount of general strikes, protesting, occupying, or posting on CiF will change that. We do not have a mighty oak of a money tree, but a bunce bonsai and, in truth, that’s all we ever did have.

Since the crisis hit we have seen both the unavoidability of this truth and the reluctance of electorates to accept it. In the last few years the voters of Greece, Spain, and France have voted out ‘austerity’ governments only to have ‘austerity’ visited upon them anyway by their replacements (at least they were asked, unlike the Italians). There is a very good chance that this November and in May 2015 the voters of the United States and United Kingdom will discover that reality doesn’t just disappear because you tick a box marked ‘Obama’ or ‘Miliband’.

The amount of money spent by the government has grown inexorably. We have reached its limit. In Britain, since 1964, whether top rates of tax have been at 83 percent, as in the 1970s, or 40 percent, the percentage of national income paid in taxes has never exceeded 38% of GDP.

Whatever the designs of the politicians, the social democrats, the Labour party, the Guardian, or Polly Toynbee, the British people, collectively and unconsciously, seem to have decided that they are not willing to fund a state sector any bigger than this. When the share of state spending as a share of GDP reaches 45 percent or 50 percent, as it has recently, the only way is down. That is where we are now.

If the extravagant spending promises of politicians outstrip both the capabilities of even a well-functioning capitalism to generate the necessary wealth and the public’s willingness to pay for it, that is not capitalism’s crisis, but a crisis of big government. Its time is up.

This article first appeared at The Commentator

A roundup

Snowed under

Its been a busy few weeks. Christmas and new year saw me in the States and since I got back I’ve been hard at work (round the job) on a project. Watch this space and all that…

Ive scribbled a couple of things though which have sort of fallen between the old blog and here. The Commentator, for which I’m Contributing Editor, has carried a couple of my articles this month. First was The economic reality of 2012, a look at the prospects for the global economy in the coming year. Its grim reading but then I think it will be a grim year.

Next up came an article on the coalition government’s attempts to cap the amount of benefits a family can receive to the level of the average national wage. This is such a no brainer in terms of fairness that you wonder how anyone has the gall to oppose it but there you are. I should add that The Commentator have changed the title of every item I have ever sent them. Not this time though, so read up on Why Britain is f*****

I also occasionally contribute to Global Politics and with the US Presidential race revving up I pondered the tricky question of the foreign policy of my favoured candidate, Congressman Ron Paul. Reading is most recent book I found myself wincing at times but I can put that to one side this election because the big question is not whether the US should bomb Iran but whether it will be able to afford to. Anyway, you can read all about it in the unimaginatively named Ron Paul and Foreign Policy

I enjoy writing for Middlebrow Magazine under a non political pseudonym. I try and steer clear of the sorts of topics I cover elsewhere and cover other interests like film, drama, music etc. But my article Animal spirits, Asymmetries and Austrians is a run down of some of the most popular of the spate of recent books on the economic crisis.

That’s all for now. More old rubbish is on the way so, in the words of Shaw Taylor, keep ’em peeled.

 

Why Britain is f*****

Nice ‘work’ if you can get it

I left university in 2002 without a degree. I started working in a bar and, through a colleague there, I picked up some temp work in accounts. The following year, aged 23, I got my first proper full time job. I was paid £16,000 per year out of which I had to pay travel of £100 per month, Council Tax of £90 per month and rent of £520 per month. I didn’t qualify for Housing Benefit. Things were pretty tight but I remember how proud I was to be standing on my own two feet.

My career progressed. In 2005 I moved jobs and got a pay rise to £21,000 per year. I moved again in 2006 to a salary of £23,000 per year. The credit crunch hit and I was made redundant in 2008 but went straight to work at another role for £27,000 per year. I was finally earning the national average wage. It had taken me five years of hard work, study, and self-reliance.

It’s not like that for everyone though. Take Firuta Vasile. According to the Daily Mail this 27 year old Romanian single mother of three who arrived in the UK four years ago can now claim £2,600 per month in Housing Benefit. This is on top of the £25,547.60 per year she already gets in tax credits, child benefits, disability living allowance and carer’s allowance.

Ms Vasile, after just four years in this country during which time she has not had a job, now has an income it took me five years of full time work to achieve. If, like me, you stepped over the open money trench of Britain’s wildly generous welfare state and took the option of working for your money, you were a mug quite frankly.

Few people would oppose a welfare state which seeks to protect those who have fallen on hard times. We have a duty to look after those who cannot look after themselves. But we do not have a duty to look after those who won’t look after themselves. And we do not have a duty to pay them better than the people who pay for them.

Opponents of the coalition’s welfare reforms are defending a grossly unjust system. They defend a system so perverted that it pays Abu Qatada, described as “Osama bin Laden’s right hand man in Europe” and wanted abroad for a string of bombings, £400 per week in benefits.

They celebrated when the House of Lords voted against the government’s proposed measures to limit Housing Benefit. They either did not know or did not care that the cost of this defeat would be borne by hard pressed hard working people who will now have to keep paying taxes for others to live in places they couldn’t afford.

It is at times like this that you realise how disconnected much of the left has become from its traditions. A museum near where I live in east London has a display of the Ten Commandments of The Socialist Sunday School on display. Among the exhortations to “Honour good people” and “Make every day holy by good and useful deeds and kindly actions” are references to the value of work. “All the products of the earth are the result of labour; whoever enjoys them without working for them is stealing the bread of the worker” it says.

Somewhere along the way the left, or its leaders at any rate, forgot this. Instead they came to represent the non-worker. Whether it was those on benefits or underemployed workers in the public sector, the left sought to an ever greater degree to expropriate the wealth generated by workers in the private sector to lavish on those who weren’t working.

Opponents of welfare reform like to say that the welfare state initiated by William Beveridge is under attack. In fact the welfare state envisioned by Beveridge and other post war architects was killed decades ago when it was upgraded from the safety net described in the famous 1942 report to a luxurious hammock which currently holds nearly one in six households in the UK and two thirds more people on disability benefit than 20 years ago.

If Britain is to dig itself out of its economic hole it will need people to work. To encourage this it will need people to be rewarded for their work and not to see the fruits of their labour spirited away by the state and spent on the non-working section of the population.

But more than that, it is a matter of justice. Those who generate the wealth are entitled to keep it and, however imperfectly, the left used to have some understanding of this. If their rhetoric about social justice is to be anything other than a thin moral veneer for the maintenance of privilege they ought to rediscover it.

This article originally appeared at The Commentator