Friday, 27 February 2015

Getting people out of the shit

Welfare dependence in New Zealand is intergenerational.  There’s around a million or more New Zealanders who depend on welfare for their weekly wedge. And, as Lindsay Mitchell reports, new research shows conclusively that, and I quote, “three quarters of the forward cost of welfare rests with those who go on welfare under twenty.”

Got that? Three quarters of the forward cost of welfare rests with those who go on welfare under twenty.

And of that number under twenty,

(9 in 10) were from beneficiary families, the majority of whom received a main benefit for most of their teen years.


51% were in beneficiary families for 80% or more of their teen years.

So it surely looks as though entitle-itis is born, not made.

As Lindsay says, “this gets to the crux of welfare dependence. For the most past, welfare is not helping helping folk get out of a bad situation. Instead, it is encouraging bad situations to remain, and to become intergenerational. 

It is not helping people out of the shit. It is creating generation after generation of folk who see shit as their permanent station in life – as suckers on the state tit for life.

Call it the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Only the people who created this system could be happy.

It’s not just unaffordable – government debt increasing every year to pay for it. It’s not just unsustainable – the experiment is only decades long, and already beyond the means of most countries to sustain it. It’s destructive all round, for no real fruit.

So how do we get welfare out of the shit?

How about start by removing welfare at the margins.

What are the margins?

Well, there’s a list you can make, from most- to least-deserving of your coin:

  1. Individuals and families who are in the shit
  2. Businesses and sports teams who are in the shit
  3. Businesses and sports teams who want a favour

Then, use  the Old-White-Haired Mother test created by PJ O’Rourke: recognise that all welfare is paid for out of somebody else’s pocket, extracted at the barrel of a gun. So ask yourself, does this particular measure justify putting a gun to the head of my kindly white-haired old mother.

Unless you’re a Sky City director you’d have to agree at getting rid of #3. And unless you’re a beneficiary of South Canterbury Finance, or Grant Dalton, you’d surely agree there’s little justification for #2.

See how easy it is? Already we’ve slashed away some big margins.

How about the people in item 1: individuals and families who are in the shit. What do we do about them.

Here’s another kind of list that cuts through the fog:

  1. People who through no choice of their own are in the shit; and
  2. People who’ve made choices that turned into shit; and finally
  3. People who’ve chosen to stay in the shit.

It’s fairly clear that in any kind of quest for coin, it’s not number 3 who are the most deserving of your white-haired old mother’s mugging.

And those  #2 folk can, at best, only justify mugging her temporarily, by making their stay on the state tit temporary.

So #1 folk are the only ones with any kind of moral claim on my mother’s mugging – people who through no choice of their own, and through either disability, illness or severe quadriplegia are in the shit for life, with no parole.

And, well, really, there’s hardly a million in that boat, is there. Let’s be fair, hardly even 10,000.

Not so many, in fact, that they couldn’t all be helped out by voluntary charity…

Think about it.

Intergenerational state welfare has delivered unsustainable debt and an all-but permanent underclass.

If you can save those permanently enmired and your white-haired old mother at the same time, why wouldn’t you?

If we’re going to help – you know, like actually help, with actual positive outcomes and all that -- then let’s help people out of the shit they’re in, not lock them (and us) in there permanently.


  1. "all welfare is paid for out of somebody else's pocket"

    Not true. Many welfare recipients have been forced to pay into the system previously, and are therefore entitled to get their money back.

  2. There's that word again. "... entitled..."

    See how easy it is?

  3. It's funny but even rolling back the corporate welfare gets hard. Start tackling the sports and arts and watch people squeal. Suggest that libraries that compete with bookshops, ISPs and DVD rental stores shouldn't be subsidised and you rapidly get to someone who thinks there is a role for government.

  4. Oh Ben - so these mythical welfare taxpayers' tax was earmarked for their future welfare? Where is that account?

  5. @ PC & Kiwi Greg

    This was the rationale Ayn Rand & most of her supporters (including the ARI) use to justify her collecting Social Security. So you admit she was a hypocrite then?

  6. This sort of thing is now a dead issue and therefore a waste of time to debate.

    Two weeks ago the ACT party clearly stated the towel has been thrown in politically by saying that to oppose corporate welfare would result in what was described as the "2015 David Seymour Memorial election".

    That a snap election at Easter on a principled issue - (an issue slightly easier to grasp than marrying your Sister) - may well have resulted in Mr Seymour receiving not only his 100,000 vote target, but a few truck loads more, seemed lost on the ACT party.

    So to keep debating when there is no longer any realistic political scenario which sees welfare cuts, or corporate welfare cuts... is a complete waste of time.

    In short - after 40 years the debate has now ended: we lost and they won...*shrug*

    I am happy for tax dollars being spent on Concert FM and the Symphony Orchestra and the Ballet - things which would struggle to sell enough tickets to be viable; this sort of enters the 3rd category.

    It is not quite as easy as it sounds to sell $3 million of advertising for Concert FM, nor to pay professional classical musicians, or professional dancers.

  7. @Ben: "'The Myth About Ayn Rand & Social Security'
    "You know your critics are desperate when they accuse you of hypocrisy without bothering to investigate your stated principles. The desperation is especially palpable if you’ve explained how those principles apply to the very action you’re being criticized for.
    "So it is with Ayn Rand and Social Security...."

  8. According to that article you are morally entitled (that word again) to claim welfare/SS as long as you're opposed to it. Perfect. No wonder some regard Rand as a genius.

    Yet when I brought up the same restitution argument it was dismissed out of hand for some reason.

  9. It's not at all easy to get people out of shit, it needs and require efforts to do the same.

  10. So what exactly is the libertarian stance on welfare? If it's OK to collect as long as long as you don't agree with it on principle, then PC is confused. If all welfare paid out is indefensible theft from taxpayers then Rand was a hypocrite. Which is it?

  11. @Anonymous (of course): In a nutshell: It's theft. The only ones justified in taking it are those being stolen from who are actively working to end the theft.
    And that describes how many, do you think?

  12. @PC But you said in the article the only ones morally justified in taking it are people who are under severe hardship through no fault of their own.

    Your rationalisation about 'those actively working to end the theft' fails the old lady test.

    If all taxation is theft then no one is entitled to it except people under hardship through no fault of their own.

    If claiming welfare is simply reclaiming your stolen tax dollars then everyone who has been taxed is entitled to welfare.

    I don't think you're actually that confused. I think you are simply in denial about your hero Rand being a hypocrite. Repeat after me "Rand was a hypocrite"

    Not that hard, was it?

  13. @Anonymous (funny how trolls are generally too cowardly to leave a name), you claimed; "But you said in the article the only ones morally justified in taking it are people who are under severe hardship through no fault of their own."

    I said no such thing. I suggest that moral claim is made by welfare advocates (on the basis of the morality of altruism), but I do not agree with them it is morally justified.

    The rest of your reading comprehension is equally ill. Please try harder.

  14. Ben & Anon - If someone were to kidnap you by forcing you into their car at gunpoint, and then in a moment when the kidnapper steps out and you the get the opportunity to escape, you drive off with their car and leave the kidnapper behind - would you be guilty of vehicle theft? And would you buy the argument you're a hypocrite because on the one hand you're against infringements of your rights, but on the other hand willing to take someone's private property without their consent? If you can understand the critical point here (that you did not agree to being forced into the car in the first place), you will understand why Ayn Rand is not a hypocrite.

  15. @PC
    "So #1 folk are the only ones with any claim on my mothers mugging"

    That's what you said. It's not the opinion of welfare advocates because they believe #1,2 & 3 all have a claim.

    The argument that people in the #1 deserve taxpayer money instead of being left to die if they are unable to get charitable donations is a very reasonable argument. Based on the compassion that normal people have.
    In the article it seemed you shared this basic compassion - then you say you don't!

    To suggest libertarians are more deserving of taxpayer dollars than say, a quadriplegic orphan, is a joke. I'm sure rational libertarians (the ones who aren't desperate to defend Ayn Rand) would disagree with this.

    @Mark: That is a very poor analogy of SS.

    An analogy of what Rand did using vehicle theft goes more like this:

    Your car is stolen. You get a call from police to come to their yard and see if your car is one of the stolen cars they have recovered. Unfortunately your car isn't there, so you claim one of the other ones.

    SS is (as libertarians have often pointed out) Ponzi in nature, with a declining number of young workers paying an increasing number of older people. This is why Rand's contemporaries Isabel Paterson & Rose Wilder Lane declined SS on principle: They didn't want to be hypocrites.

  16. @ Anon - Every car has a separate identity, and if we're talking restitution then every car stolen needs to be returned it's individual owner. By contrast a $1 taken from Person A is indistinguishable from a $1 taken from Person B once it ends up in the gov't coffers. Provided what you're able to get back is no more than what you've had taken from you, there's no hypocrisy, and in fact trying to get back some of what was taken is the only moral thing to do.

    If you disagree then I wonder (assuming you're a libertarian) how you go about existing in your everyday life without contradicting yourself. Do you refuse to drive on gov't roads, or drink water from a gov't financed water supply, because you don't believe gov't should be financing these things?

  17. Mark: You don't have a choice when it comes to roads etc. You can choose not to accept SS.

    The Ponzi nature of SS rules out the fungible nature of money argument. By collecting, you exacerbate the Ponzi effect putting an increased burden on young taxpayers.

    If you look at earlier comments, when Ben brought up your argument it was dismissed by a couple of libertarian commenters including Mr PC. Then when the example of Rand is brought up her acolytes change their stance 180 degrees. Trying to rationalise that their hero isn't a hypocrite.

    If I'm wrong, see how many articles you can find by libertarians pre-2011 (when Rand was revealed to have taken SS) arguing 'getting back what was taken is the only moral thing to do'.

    I can recall a video featuring ARI head priest Yaron Brook where he argued that libertarians are hypocrites if they take a pension. Of course he has since changed his mind as well. So much for having concrete principles.

  18. The Ponzi nature of SS rules out the fungible nature of money argument. By collecting, you exacerbate the Ponzi effect putting an increased burden on young taxpayers.

    If you leave out all the Rand hating and condescension in @Anonymous' tone, this is actually an excellent point.

    I'd like to see a good response to this. Mark? PC?

    @Anonymous - why do you have to make your points in such a snarky way? It's no wonder you're accused of trolling. I actually don't think you're a troll, but maybe try arguing (just) the point, instead of trying to bait people. Also, I know it's the done thing to hate on Ayn Rand, but again, why not attack (just) the ideas you disagree with instead of ad hominem against a dead person, and those who appreciate her works?

  19. Anon - You seem to be drawing a rather arbitrary line there. If someone on an average income gets to 65 and has saved little (largely due to be taxed 30% most of their lives), they would have few practical choices aside from going on social security. On the flip side I could argue that it would be difficult, but not impossible to live without using gov't roads (go live in the backcountry where there are no roads) - and most people could get by without a gov't water supply (collect the rainwater off your roof). It would be even easier to avoid gov't parks, museums, libraries, etc (don't go). But why should we? What's the point of making ourselves a martyr to our own cause, when it achieves nothing and only disadvantages us personally?

    I suspect the 'line' you've drawn is influenced more by your dislike of Rand/Objectivism, then it is adherence to any consistent principle. In fact I see more scope for hypocrisy in your position (i.e. it's ok to take advantage of some gov't services, but not others). You allege there's inconsistency and a charge of heart post 2011 amongst libertarians/Objectivists on this matter, but that's not my experience. I've met a large number of people over 25 years with a similar political persuasion to me, all of whom are against social security on principle - but I've never known any to claim that in our current context, it was personally immoral or hypocritical to accept social security after paying a lifetime of taxes - or even to accept subsidised education at the beginning of your working life in anticipation of the taxes you will be paying. If you've seen a flood of commentary post 2011 to make this point more explicitly, that would only be because of recent attempts to denigrate Rand, that you are a prime example of. Prior to that I don't think it was even considered a controversial issue.

    The governments involvement in our economy is so wide and intrusive, that all of us engage with it on same level. The appropriate level of engagement is a highly contextual and personal matter. For instance I work in an industry (civil engineering) which is dominated by the public sector. My 'line' is that I would avoid at all costs ever being directly employed by the gov't, and have managed to do that for almost all my 25 year career (a few compromises where required in the early days). But I don't condemn those engineers who work for Council and perform a legitimate and (relatively) efficient role. I couldn't do it now, they can - but neither of us is hypocritical - provided they are fulfilling a productive role that would need doing by the private sector, were it not controlled by the government. If on the other had a libertarian took up a planning role at Council administering the RMA, then I would consider that hypocritical.

    I still have to engage with the public sector on some level, and it's up to me to assess on a case by case basis the level of conflict with my values, and make the choices that best align with those values. It's not up to you or anyone else who's unfamiliar with my context to judge my life choices in this regard - or to judge Rand's. It's a personal choice.

    You are correct that social security is like a Ponzi scheme. The taxes of those reaching retirement age are now gone - they've been spent - and their social security now has to be paid by the younger generation. That's why we have to dismantle the welfare state and wean retirees off the need for welfare, despite their lifetime of taxes. But whilst the current system remains, it would be self sacrificial to let everyone else get some of their taxes back, but not yourself.

  20. @Greig: I'm just trying to talk some sense into people who are supposed to have libertarian values. Bringing attention to how the stance on welfare changes 180 degrees when Rand is brought up is a very valid point I believe. If it comes across as 'baiting' Rand fans then really Rand brought it on herself by collecting SS & Medicare after spending her life labelling such people as parasites.

    @Mark: It's not possible to live in the backcountry and not use gov't roads unless you never leave the house. Far more realistic to save a retirement fund and not have to collect SS/Medicare.

    Yes some people have to collect SS for practical reasons but it's still hypocritical if you claim to be a libertarian. As far as context in regard to choices is concerned Rand had a $500k nest egg when her lawyer signed her up, so her circumstances hardly forced her into it.

    Yes I don't like Rand. She didn't live according to her principles, which people are inevitably going to bring up since her fans put her on such a ridiculous pedestal. She recycled the ideas of others without giving them credit & was an incredibly mean-spirited person. In terms of actually getting libertarian voices in parliament/senate etc. Rand and her followers have brought the libertarian movement backwards.

    "it would be self sacrificial to let everyone else get some of their taxes back, but not yourself."

    Like you said, SS is a Ponzi scheme. You don't get your taxes back, you get the tax dollars of younger workers. The libertarians who have refused SS did so because they valued their principles more than they valued rationalising getting their money back.

  21. @Anonymous I'm actually in agreement, and I'm interested because I'm currently out of work. I've had a lot of friends suggest I should "take the dole", and they've seemed surprised when I wouldn't, saying things like "but you're just claiming your taxes back, surely that's OK as a libertarian?"

    I've disagreed, but been struggling to explain why. To be fair, I'd not really given it enough though until now.

    @Mark I think you're right about it being a personal choice in terms of which taxpayer funded services to use, though as with free speech, I don't believe you're free from the consequences of those choices. If your choices make you look like a hypocrite, then you can either a) explain to your critics why that's not the case, or b) ignore your critics. That said, I think almost everyone is hypocritical at some point in their lives. Sometimes it's easier to just recognise it and move on rather than get completely knotted up in trying to rationalise it within the too-tight constraints of ideology. For example, many libertarian types (myself included) often "joke" about killing politicians, then attempt to rationalise it as "self-defence". It's really not. Luckily I've never seen it proceed past a joke. :)


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