Thursday, 30 July 2009

NOT PJ: Public Finances

This week Bernard Darnton looks at what happens when you sup with the devil and ask for seconds.

_BernardDarnton The media is aflutter with concern for the “right to privacy” of two beneficiaries who chose to whine about their finances in public. The aggrieved pair are “astonished” and “flabbergasted” that Minister for Westie Affairs Paula Bennett trumped their “right to privacy” with “turnabout is fair play.”

Mses Fuller and Johnston were the stars of a Sunday Herald story histrionically titled “Govt axe destroys dreams.” There are innumerable cases where government axes – or at least sharpened clipboards, suffocating paperwork, and strangulating red tape – do destroy dreams. In some crappier parts of the world the government axes are less metaphorical and more, well, axe-like.

In this case, however, the dream was the dream of yet more free cash from the government. The axe was a budget decision that there would be minutely less money dished out on education subsidies this year – probably because most of it got spent on basket-weaving and similar nonsense. Bennett’s crime was to inform us that the Sunday Herald’s two heroines were already pulling down about $80,000 between them.

Welcome to the welfare state: Give a man a fish and he’ll demand chips too.

Sue Bradford immediately accused Paula Bennett of beneficiary bashing. Mind you, anyone who suggests that it’s not the state’s job to provide free breakfast in bed with extra caviar is accused by Sue Bradford of beneficiary bashing. Listening to her is just extra wear and tear on my eardrums that I can do without.

Somehow, Annette King has concluded that the financial affairs of Fuller and Johnston are private and should remain secret, even after Fuller and Johnston have published details of their financial woes, alongside suitably sad photographs, in the Sunday Herald and also after King herself had discussed said financial affairs in Parliament.

Nope. The way that modern democratic socialism works is that thousands of wannabe beneficiaries gang up every election and vote themselves the contents of each other wallets. This system supposes that the contents of everyone’s wallets are of intimate concern to everyone else involved. So it’s a bit bloody rich for the supporters of this scheme to complain when those of us who pay the bills find out where the cash actually goes.

There is such a thing as the right to privacy but it derives from the right to property. What goes on in my house is my business because it’s my house. But that changes if I invite the Sunday Herald into my house to show them the broken windows and mildew and to have dejected photos taken. And if someone then points out that it’s not as crap as I’d made out I can hardly complain. And if I was using the publicity to try and convince people to chip in and buy me a spa pool I should probably just slink back to where I’d come from.

The details of my income are private because they’re a purely voluntary arrangement between me and my employer. They don’t concern anyone else. Those of Mses Fuller and Johnston on the other hand (and that of Ms Bennett, for that matter) concern everyone who has their pay packets raided by Inland Revenue to fund our gargantuan welfare state.

The debate has been framed as a big, bad government picking on a couple of helpless individuals battling to improve themselves. A big, bad government trying to chill the free speech of a couple of citizens who dared to criticise it. In fact, the ones telling this story are the ones trying to make the government bigger and badder.

If you don’t want the government to tell everyone your income then stop voting for governments that demand to know how much you earn.

* * Read Bernard Darnton’s column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *


Marcus said...

most of it got spent on basket-weaving and similar nonsense

By God man, you're completely underestimating the value of basket weaving on the economy aren't you? ;)

If I write a shit-stirring letter to the local paper, am I sweet to use your fish n chips quote?

Dave Mann said...

A great article, Bernard... you're a brilliant writer. I loved that line about wanting chips too :-)

So much of what you guys (Libertarians, to generalise) say is true and its such a pity that the purism of your philosophy demands that you take it to the extremes that you do.

I think Libertarianism is like the enjoyment of a fine wine (or in PC's case a beer!). However good it is - even in quite large quantities - it still would be fatal to the system to imbibe it in extremes.

Anyway... enough on that. Thanks for the enjoyable articles!

Richard McGrath said...

Well put, Bernard, as usual.

Anonymous said...

Marcus, if you want to use any of my quotes for stirring shit go right ahead - that's what they're for.

Dave, if anything would be fatal to "the system" we should order an extra case just to be sure.

twr said...

Quote from someone I forwarded this to: "He’s a sensible man this Bernard Darnton. Tells it like it is."

Now you just have to turn that into action.

Madeleine said...

Bennett’s crime was to violate a law because she didn't like it.

Regardless of the merits of her actions you are conveniently ignoring the fact that the state in this situation has acted as if it is above the law. The law applies to all state agents and citizens included. When the state acts as if it is above the law the state must be called on it - even if the law is a stupid law.

However as long as the state can rely on commentators such as yourself to conveniently ignore this in favour of the other issues it can do as it pleases.

Bennett is a govt Minister. Whether you agree with the Privacy Laws or not she had a duty to uphold the law irregardless of the other factors in play.

Or am I missing some tenet of libertarianism I am not aware of? Can the state do as it pleases and ignore its own laws when it suits it?

Anonymous said...

You've raised some interesting points that have got me thinking. What this episode has shown is that laws such as the Privacy Act and the Bill of Rights restrict our rights.

Here's my ha'pennethworth:
Update: Govt makes it harder for beneficiaries to get off the benefit (Bennett releases income info)

The way that modern democratic socialism works is that thousands of wannabe beneficiaries gang up every election and vote themselves the contents of each other wallets.

What you've touched on is that fact the democracy is mob rule, and beneficiaries are the mob that rules> I've explained this further here:

The problem with democracy - part one

Anonymous said...


Can the state do as it pleases and ignore its own laws when it suits it?

It can and it does, because we effectively have an absolute monarchy (without the time-preference advantages of an inherited throne) where Jane Public has no control over the government.

Think of a cat toying with a mouse and you've got the idea. Of course, a large enough force of mice can overwhelm a cat...