‘A deep fissure in the conservative movement’

Jason Soon thinks welfare payments should be replaced by a guaranteed minimum income scheme. Rather than subjecting welfare recipients to a regime of case management and workfare, Soon thinks they should be free to make their own decisions about work and lifestyle. ‘BadPeter Saunders disagrees. While Soon thinks that deregulating the labour market is the best strategy for reducing welfare dependency, Saunders thinks that regulating welfare recipients ought to be the first priority.

Soon and Saunders are taking sides in a debate between two of America’s best known critics of the welfare state — Charles Murray and Lawrence Mead. This debate is part of a larger conflict between libertarians and conservatives. The American Enterprise Institute’s Leon Kass talks about the division between libertarians and free market economists on one hand and values oriented conservatives on the other as a "deep fissure in the conservative movement".

Both Murray and Mead have been supported by the Olin and Bradley foundations (pdf). Both have been warmly received as guests of Australia’s Centre for Independent Studies. As Soon says, the right is "is not a homogenous beast engaged in groupthink". In America’s war of ideas sharing an enemy has always been more important than agreeing on a policy platform.

Charles Murray takes the libertarian position. In his 1984 book Losing Ground he argued that welfare dependency could be explained by the incentives created by the welfare state. By subsidising joblessness and fatherless families well intentioned policy makers were making the poverty problem worse. And as underclass neighbourhoods slid further into social dysfunction Murray was worried that policy makers would refuse to confront the cause of the problem — that instead of doing less, they would do more. In a 1988 article he warned that America was drifting towards a regime of ‘custodial democracy‘:

“Custodial democracy, a term I introduced in 1988 or 1989, refers to the notion that the United States is increasingly trying to maintain the system we think of as the American system. At the same time, the country says there is a large chunk of the population that cannot be expected to act as responsible citizens, so we will take care of them. We will take care of them in some cases by incarcerating them. We will take care of them in other cases by providing them with support. We have become increasingly intrusive in that support by the way, becoming more and more controlling.”

Becoming more controlling is exactly what Lawrence Mead has in mind. In a string of books and papers Mead has advocated a policy regime he calls the ‘new paternalism‘. As Mead explains:

paternalism means social policies aimed at the poor that attempt to reduce poverty and other social problems by directive and supervisory means. Programs based on these policies help the needy but also require that they meet certain behavioral requirements, which the programs enforce through close supervision. These measures assume that the people concerned need assistance but that they also need direction if they are to live constructively.

Mead is under no illusions about bureaucracy’s ability to change lives. In The New Politics of Poverty he admits that it is doubtful that policies like workfare and case management can "alter attitudes in any fundamental way, or even influence behavior once clients leave their purview" (p 183). His position is that because some Americans are incapable of living up to the obligations of citizenship they must give up the privileges of citizenship in return for access to state support.

The reason Mead is unconcerned about new paternalism’s ability to reform its clients is that his policy prescriptions are not meant primarily as a solution to social problems but as a solution to the political problems they cause. It’s worth remembering that Mead is a political scientist, not a sociologist or anthropologist. He argues that while the public are opposed to unconditional handouts to the non-working poor they do not want government to simply abandon poor adults and their children. Neither abolishing welfare nor replacing it with a negative income tax are politically feasible options.

Mead’s policy prescriptions will make government bigger rather than smaller. Supervision requires bureaucracy. It is this aspect of the new paternalism that most disturbs libertarians and free market economists. For economists like Milton Friedman bureaucracy has always been more of a problem than the underclass. For decades he has supported replacing welfare state programs with a negative income tax. And in turn, the idea of unconditional handouts to non-working adults has always horrified conservatives. Conservatives like Irving Kristol argue that the free market is living off the accumulated moral capital of bourgeois society. Unless our social institutions reinforce the values of work, personal responsibility and self discipline society risks collapse.

Some conservatives go even further. The political philosopher Leo Strauss argued that:

The habit of looking at social or human phenomena without making value judgments has a corroding influence on any preferences. The more serious we are as social scientists, the more completely we develop within ourselves a state of indifference to any goal, or of aimlessness and drifting, a state which may be called nihilism (p 14).

It is on this issue of values that Soon and Saunders disagree. Like most economists Soon worries more about the growth of government than the erosion of the work ethic. He sees values as a private matter. Saunders does not. He believes that welfare policies have undermined values and institutions. For him, preserving the work ethic and the family are legitimate policy aims — they are public issues not just private ones.

This entry was posted in Economics and public policy, Society. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to ‘A deep fissure in the conservative movement’

  1. The left should be more divided on this one than it is – it is really only conservatives who have worked out that the legitimacy of the welfare state depends partly on staying within accepted community norms, which able-bodied people taking welfare without doing anything in return have always been outside (despite the current popularity of tax in the polls, support quickly declines if people believe that the money will be spent on welfare). Arguments in the welfare lobbly for higher benefits and less mutual obligation are not going to go anywhere.

    Personally, in a policy sense I’m with the conservatives on this one: no able-bodied person should receive welfare unless they are doing something that is of recognised value, such as educating themselves or looking after young children or other persons who cannot be expected to look after themselves.

  2. Ken Parish says:

    So what are the differences between the Mead/Saunders line and the neo-social democratic “third way” “mutual obligation” prescriptions of people like Anthony Giddens (echoed in some of Fred Argy’s recent writings here at Troppo)? Is it just that Mead/Saunders (a) lack any faith in the redemptive capacity of the idle poor; and (b) therefore advocate deterrent or punitive/supervisory measures devoid of any significant element of education, retraining and skills development? Or are there additional elements that I’m missing?

  3. Amused says:

    I think what we are alll missing is the conflation of Friedmanesque economics, with its ‘let the market hang out baby’ with Stausserian angst about democracy, and its (for him) dangerous capacity to undermine the proper deference required from the stupid many to the wise few, if civilisation (meaning property relations) is to survive. I think it was written about some time ago. The quote that comes to mind about turbo charged market relations and their liberatory capacity goes something like this:-
    ‘All fast frozen relations dissolve….all that is solid melts into air’

    So far so contradictory.

    It is amusing reading and listening to pontificating huffing and puffing conservatives here and in the US, prosecuting their kultur kampf against the godless ’60s generation, single mothers, the reckless and feckless under class, and that great trope I am especially fond of, ‘the culture of welfare dependancy’. Oh yes, the psychological state of not having enough money! I love the metaphysics of it all. I especially love the recurring anxiety about the, well, absolute fecklessness of women these days, what with their babies, hatched to recieve the baby bonus, and their absolute obligation to not only look for work, but damn well take work, any work, for both its absolute salvic value, and its more prosaic value for budget outlays.

    Thank heavens though, that we have a government with a decent respect for traditional family values, and the socially useful role that government outlays directed towards the properly psychologically adjusted can have. As we all agree, family tax benefit ‘B’, the first home owners allowance, negative gearing and zero taxes on a million dollars invested in super, are all fine examples of the political economy of reward to those who have demonstrated the proper psychological orientation to reality. If people get help like this, they must deserve it. If of course the ‘help’ is not enough ,and people still stubbonly fail to be rich and vote in accordance with the natural moral order, it must mean they are totally undeserving, and risk falling into the psychological state, almost the political crime known as ‘failing to be rich despite the best endeavours of their betters’.

  4. Jason Soon says:

    When I saw a Troppo post by Don Arthur this morning I knew he was going to link it back to Murray vs Mead.

    You’ve summed it up well, Don. Peter made a very interesting comment in his response – he likened mutual obligation to the norms of reciprocity in a family where the patriarch doles out pocket money in return for the children mowing the lawn. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, maybe it’s just a stray example from Peter’s mind but that is revealing of the communitarian framework. It assumes that it’s desirable that norms that prevail within a family should prevail in society.

    He claims that only economists could fail to see this analogy. But it’s not just economists, I dare say, it’s liberals. This idea of society as a ‘family’ – well to paraphrase someone famous, there’s no such thing as this society. Society and its laws and governments under a liberal view aren’t based on the notion of shared meritocratic or other norms. The family is a nice institution. But there are other things about the norms of a family like hierarchy and paternalism which are inappropriate for structuring society and government. For liberals, society and government are purposeless entities, or rather in the case of government, its purpose is to act as a form of insurance, to pool funds to insure for security – some physical security (defence, law and order) and yes, even some economic security (e.g. the social insurance function) and for the vague ‘facilities and monuments’ clause (roads, etc), the need for which changes according to technological developments. I see this as an updated version of the Hobbesian argument for government.

    Now you might argue that this view of government as just an insurance agency works against me because insurers obviously can demand modification of behaviour contingent on giving you a ‘policy’ but that really isn’t at the heart of the issue. Certainly moral hazard is a relevant consideration. But this same insurer has demanded of you other restrictions which created this moral hazard in the first place (by regulations which reduce labour market opportunities) so the argument at that level is really about how we can sequence reforms to the rather perverse policies this monopoly insurer called government has in place at the moment.

    The broader issue is that Saunders, Mead et al clearly see government as more than an insurance agency which merely has a collective interest in ensuring it recoups through premiums its implementation of insurance policies which are ultimately to satisfy these individual preferences for some degree of security. So that if hypothetically, say, everyone pays a level of tax (premiums) which they are happy to pay and as a result there is some shirking (which there probably is among some insurance policyholders anyway)but of a manageable level, they still won’t be happy because it’s the *norms* which they want to entrench. The ‘right’ norms of course, whatever that might be.

  5. Don Arthur says:

    Ken – I think you’re right. The Third Way puts more emphasis on creating opportunity. A lot of Australian academics seem to think that Anthony Giddens invented the Third Way. In the US the DLC think that they invented it. As far as I can tell, the label first entered politics during Clinton’s 1992 campaign. It started out as Clinton’s ‘new covenant‘. Applied to welfare reform it meant:

    …we’re going to give you training and education and health care for yourself and your children, but if you can work you must go to work because we can no longer afford to have you stay on welfare forever.

    I can’t see much difference between Clinton’s Third Way approach to welfare reform and the Hawke government’s idea of ‘reciprocal obligation’ (which came out of the Social Security Review). Under reciprocal obligation you couldn’t claim you were genuinely unemployed if you refused take part in government re-training programs. The idea was that unemployment was caused by structural change in the economy — there was a mismatch of the skills employers demanded and the skills the unemployed were able to supply.
    Both the Third Way and the New Paternalism are solutions to the same political problem — how to meet the public’s demand for assistance to the poor without resorting to handouts for able bodied adults. Both approaches try to span the traditional left/right divide. But the problem takes a different form for parties of the right than it does for parties of the left.
    Right wing parties need an explanation for joblessness which doesn’t blame the market or business. Left wing parties need an explanation that doesn’t blame the jobless or the union movement. Mead’s explanation explains chronic joblessness by appealing to the psychology of the poor. He argues that while they share the community’s values about work, marriage and respect for the law, they feel unable to live by them. They lack self-efficacy. They are irrationally defeatist.
    Left wing explanations focus on structural changes to the economy and the incentives created by the welfare system. As Anthony Giddens says "It isn’t so much that some forms of welfare provision create dependency cultures as that people take rational advantage of opportunities offered." In other words, the jobless poor are just like anyone else — they respond to incentives. Giddens also argues that welfare programs should place more emphasis on human capital development.
    The problem the left has faced is that human capital development programs for the jobless haven’t been a big success. Evaluations of training programs typically show depressingly low impacts. Programs which adopt a ‘work first’ approach tend to be more effective. And it’s difficult to fix the financial incentives problem without cutting welfare or subsidising low paid work (eg through an EITC). The first is harsh and the second expensive.

  6. Jason’s view could also fit with the family metaphor, since families tend to give to non-working members without expecting reciprocation (or with extremely vague reciprocation, with an expectation of unspecified favours at an unspecified time in the future). Because we don’t feel warmly toward strangers like we typically do toward family members, and because we cannot expect any voluntary reciprocation, we convert the relationship into an exchange one, like we do to acquire goods and services produced outside the household.

  7. Don Arthur says:

    Jason – I agree that it’s not just economists who are going to have trouble with Saunders’ government-as-parent metaphor. Liberals — left or right — are likely to be uncomfortable with the idea that bureaucrats have a right to supervise the lifestyle choices of adult citizens. Sometimes Saunders himself feels conflicted about this.
    Under the Saunders plan nanny gets kicked out of the house for being too indulgent and daddy takes over. As George Lakoff says, if the government is father then…

    The citizens are children of two kinds: the mature, successfully disciplined, and self-reliant ones (read: wealthy businesses and individuals), whom the government should not meddle with; and the whining, undisciplined, dependent ones who must never be coddled.

    The trouble with the government-as-parent idea is that in a liberal democratic society the ‘parents’ are elected by the ‘children’. And because there is a diversity of views within the community about what kinds of behaviours are acceptable and what kinds are not, ‘good children’ constantly run the risk that a new parent will decide that they are bad. One day it’s single mums and dope smokers, the next day it’s fast food chains and mining companies.
    Many classical liberals would agree with Saunders that moral values and cultural issues are important. But most would argue that these issues are the province of civil society not politicians and bureaucrats.

    Andrew – Do you think the ‘nation as family’ metaphor is inescapable?

  8. Jason Soon says:

    Not sure how my insurance agency metaphor is similar to the family metaphor. The point is that the family metaphor would care about some members of the family bludging as an intrinsic concern. Insurance policyholders can tolerate bludging and only care about it if it leads to a moral hazard death spiral of too many people bludging, which I think is far fetched even under the generous Australian scenario.

  9. Amused says:

    So now we have arrived at ‘nation as family’ I love it! I think I love Tony Abbott even more for his perceptive observation that a bad boss is like a bad husband or father, you know, they try hard, and it is better to have a bad dad or husband, than none at all!

    It is very reassuring to know that the endless efforts of the past 30 years to expunge forever the spectre of stagflation created by the psychological economy of Keysianism together with the corrosive effects of the ‘culture of entitlement’ that full employemnt produced, has been banished forever. Hurray! Now we can have the society/nation as family/enterprise, right back to, oh I don’t know, say the 1850’s perhaps?

    Problem is Danno, do you think it’ll keep going, right the way through to the keeper, forever onwards and upwards, to the truly blissful state where all the costs of its reproduction will be paid for by the unruly labour unit him/or herself? Oh well, in the meantime, we can try the little beauty of utilising the human resource that developing countries produce in huge, and cost free numbers (to us) for a little while yet. Isn’t rational economics womderful, a great example of ethical value adding to the daily grind of ensuring that the great unwashed continue to grind away in the service of nation/family!

  10. Don – No, I don’t actually think that the family metaphor is particularly helpful, since the relationships are fundamentally different and therefore the metaphor does not help us think through what obligations we might have as taxpayers or welfare recipients. I prefer the exchange metaphor, if we have to have a metaphor. I was just pointing out that the family metaphor can work two ways in this context.

  11. James Farrell says:

    “You might argue that this view of government as just an insurance agency works against me because insurers obviously can demand modification of behaviour contingent on giving you a ‘policy’….”

    Yes, exactly, you can just see it as a co-payment.

    “… but that really isn’t at the heart of the issue… But this same insurer has demanded of you other restrictions which created this moral hazard in the first place (by regulations which reduce labour market opportunities)”

    Well if anything is not the heart of the issue, that isn’t. Are you really saying that you would be all for conditional benefits if there weren’t minimum wages or employment porotection laws? I doubt it. They are separate issues and should be kept separate. But I’m afraid that, having been smitten by this ‘elegant’ argument, you can’t let it go.Perhaps I’m being picky, but – needless to say – Saunders didn’t actually use the the word patriarch. (Why do you keep forcing me to defend this evil creature?) He said parents, and I think you’re seeing an authoritarian dimension that doesn’t need to play a role here. As Andrew said, a family is in part an insurance scheme, as is a community. Alternatively, reciprocity can be expressed just as well in an insurance framework as in a family one. In an insurance scheme everybody is expected to pay premiums.

  12. James Farrell says:

    Oh, bugger. Only the first ‘that’ was supposed to be in italics. Didn’t close the tab properly. I haven’t been using the preview box, because it’s playing up – a one-and-a-half-letter slice is chopped off on the left, at least in Firefox.

  13. You seem to have sorted it James – if you’re an author here you can just click on ‘edit’ and fix it up.

  14. I’m with Jason. I’ve been arguing for a long time we should get rid of the intrusive and paternalistic bureaucracy which obsesses about turning people into compliant “work ready” citizens. It’s important in this debate to note that social norms exist alongside of but also separable from the creation of incentives to “reinforce” them. In our society, the work ethic is sufficiently embedded anyway. If people choose to write novels or surf all day on a guarenteed minimum income, I for one, don’t care. I strongly suspect most wouldn’t. You could still have programmes to encourage vocational and job search skills for those who choose to take part in them. And I think that it’s likely that this manner of delivering welfare would be far cheaper to the taxpayer than the massive machine of compliance bureaucracy that is Centrelink and the largely wasteful quasi-market setup for employment services.

    A lot of people from Gen X, like me, who graduated in the early 90s with Arts degrees or whatever, ended up on the dole for a period of time. Middle class educated twenty something or not, the labour market was very difficult to enter in the early 90s in the context of the recession – and a lot of the casual or contract entry points that exist now didn’t exist to the same degree then (it wasn’t til 1994 that full time employment fell below 50% of jobs). So we’ve been on the receiving end of mutual obligation and pointless form filling and mindlessly useless and ill directed training schemes. Working Nation was about the only one that had any real value, and it was expensive. I wish in these debates more people would try to put themselves in the position of the unemployed themselves, rather than seeing them in simply abstract terms.

    It’s because I’ve been there and done that, and a lot of my friends have too, that I feel strongly about a guarenteed minimum wage – along with my libertarian instincts.

  15. I’ve made my own contribution to the debate in a post entitled “Abolish Centrelink!” –


  16. Damn! Just the thing I didn’t want to read on a day when I’m feeling moderately productive – a blog post that gets me seriously interested in writing a response.

    As a soi-dissant tax-eating DSP malingerer – one of Andrew’s “able-bodied people taking welfare without doing anything in return”, I’m with Jason (and Mark) on this one. But then I would be wouldn’t I?

    If, as Andrew Norton says, conservatives have “have worked out that the legitimacy of the welfare state depends partly on staying within accepted community norms” – norms which naughty little provocateurs like yours truly happily flout, which doesn’t help the case for welfare any, it’s clear that that conservative welfare policy isn’t about providing welfare at all – it’s about satisfying that fabulous creature the taxpayer that as little welfare is being paid as possible. It’s an old, worn-out hand-me-down from the era of the Victorian workhouse and we’d be well shut of it.

    How did I get onto the DSP? After several years of serious chronic depression, I visited my GP – I was dolebludging at the time – and he suggested I’d qualify. I still do.

    Here’s what used to happens to this chronic depressive on an average work day. You wake up too early in the morning, mad as a cut snake because you haven’t had enough sleep. You walk to the station – when the train comes in you stay well away from the edge of the platform, in case your impulse control isn’t completely up to it today. You get off the train and think about staying at the station and catching the next train home. Walk to work, thinking all the time, I could turn around before I get there and go home again, before anyone catches me on my way to work and it’s too late.

    About eight hours later you go back to the station, and repeat the avoiding the edge of the platform thing again and take yourself home. Where all you want to do is get into a dark room and stay there. Sorry, but if anyone thinks I’m going to put myself through several months, even years, of that again, simply to comply with social norms, they’ve got a lot of scree between their ears.

    What is this social norm anyway? It’s not that you should work – that can be done in a lot of ways and a lot of settings. It’s that you should have a job – i.e. that rather than bludging off the poor taxpayer you should go out and find someone – anyone – who’ll pay you a wage – however low – to work for them. Tough titties if that’s so bad for your sanity that the daily trip to the office is actually a threat to your life.

    What are those other ways of working? One, obviously, is to start up your own business. Just don’t try it in the IT sector. The ugly stats, from memory, are that one in ten small businesses go broke and one in ten IT projects is a dud. So before you take on self-employment – other than the spurious sub-contracted labour kind – it might be a good idea to ask yourself – would I take all my life savings and put them on a ten-to-one shot in the Melbourne Cup? (If you’re looking at getting into the IT biz, make it a 100 to one shot.) Don’t fancy it? Funny about that.

    Where was I going with that again? Oh yeah – we’re supposed to be living in a new entrepreneurial culture. Well, one of the features of entrepreneurship – the genuine kind – is that it’s risky. You can do your dough as easily as you can do your dough at the races or the Crown Casino. And that leaves you where precisely? Broke and depending on Centrelink for your income (been there done that). But if you knew that no matter how many times your brilliant new venture was going to come unstuck, you could rely on covering your living expenses while you gave it another shot, you might be inclined to take that next shot instead of saying to yourself “Sod this for a game of capitalism.”

    And in the new entrepreneurial culture, isn’t a welfare system that assumes that the only way out of unemployment is to work for wages a bit old-hat anyway? That’s enough from me – I’m way over the LP three para limit. Otherwise I’d mention that this established approach to unemployment and welfare policy is very much a cultural thing and not in the least an economic one.

  17. Ken Parish says:

    “I’m with Jason.”

    Are you really? Jason seems to be agreeing with Murray and Gerard Jackson, who both argue not only for a guaranteed minimum income but also for abolition of minimum wages as part of the same package (for reasons very lucidly explained by Jackson in the extract Jason quotes). There is, at least so the argument goes, an unbreakable logical link between the two halves of the plan (otherwise labour markets won’t clear and discouraged/sub-optimal job-seekers won’t be able to get employment). Do you agree with Jason on both halves, or just the nice generous touchy feely bit where you get to surf all day at taxpayers’ expense?

  18. The touchy-feely part of course Ken. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get down to the Moonee Ponds Creek before the tide turns.

  19. Jason Soon says:

    “Are you really? Jason seems to be agreeing with Murray and Gerard Jackson, who both argue not only for a guaranteed minimum income but also for abolition of minimum wages as part of the same package (for reasons very lucidly explained by Jackson in the extract Jason quotes). ”

    Well yes, but as far as the status quo prevails, Gummo and I are still on the same side. Remember, Jackson had a moral argument as well – that the unemployed have a right to unconditional welfare as long as the current system is in place.

  20. And, incidentally, if the current system were replaced by a system of negative tax or a basic income guarantee, the welfare system would top up the incomes of those whose wages, as determined by the labourmarket, were below the negative tax threshold or whatever basic income was deemed acceptable. So there!

    But the substantive point – after the whiney personal bits – of my previous comment was this – the status quo is actually quite punitive of those who forego wage income in order to strike out for themselves, create new enterprises and thereby, maybe, more employment opportunities. The personal costs – social and economic – of going bung are so big that in the long run, it’s nowhere near being a fair bet – are way too high compared to the potential gains from winning. It’s lik ewalking a tightrope with nothing between you and terra firma but a sprinkling of sawdust and a few random piles of elephant poo.

  21. Jason Soon says:

    Yes, excellent point, Gummo. And in fact one that anticipates this link that I was going to put up.
    Samuel Brittan (an economic libertarian columnist in the UK and the brother of Tory Minister Leon Brittan) has influenced my thinking on welfare a fair bit as has the ideas discussed in this review


  22. Chris Lloyd says:

    It seems to me that negative income tax is a dumb idea. It still leads to a high EMTR because it gradually reduces as your income increases. The guaranteed minimum wage seems better because the EMTR is still low for those at the lower end of the productivity distribution. If you start gradually means testing it awy, say between k$30 and k$50, it will still have a distinct effect on the EMTR but in this wage bracket probably not much effect on behaviour.

    Has anyone calculated how much the current tax levels would have to increase to cover, say, k$10pa paid to every person between the ages of 21 to 65, earning less than k$30? (assuming you drop the k$6.5 tax free threshold which seems reasonable if you’re getting the first k$10 for nothing). Is it even remotely possible politically?

    Thanks for sharing your story with us Gummo. Take it easy man. I’m glad that my taxes contribute to keeping TBP going – especially compared to the other uses that the rodent find for it.

  23. Peter Saunders (CIS) says:

    The family metaphor is a red herring. Jason is right that I argued that the norm of reciprocity is a cultural universal (I know of no society past or present where it is not found), and that I illustrated it with reference to parents in our society linking pocket money to performance of household tasks. But Jason then spins this into the claim that I “assume that it’s desirable that norms that prevail within a family should prevail in society.”

  24. The paternalism would be less innane if there was a guaranteed ‘work for the dole’ position for anyone who was unemployed. Job search diaries and other methods of enforcing look for work requirements are very costly for all concerned – the govt, the unemployed and the businesses who have to wade through the applications and interview people who are not suitable but who must get their applications up to meet requirements. And there’s nothing like the air of high farce to put you all off.

    We could do without it if we cared enough to ensure that there always were jobs for the unemployed. I would be interested to see how the following system would go. People who are unemployed have some reasonable period full time job searching on the dole to get work – say three months (though they’d have support services and could spend some of that time on heavily subsidised retraining if they wished.)

    After that period they would be required to ‘earn’ their dole with a job paying 90% of the basic wage (or possibly retraining subject perhaps to satisfactory progress). That would give them around three days of work and two days of job search. They would have no incentives to remain on the dole if they could find work (as they could get higher pay that way). It would be expensive to create that work, and I’m happy if someone can show why I’m wrong but I think it would be a much better system.

  25. James Farrell says:

    That’s almost exactly the position I put in comments at Catallaxy, Nicholas.

  26. Pingback: Club Troppo » Selling out

  27. Ken, I don’t buy Murray, I’m only agreeing with Jason insofar as he supports dismantling Centrelink and replacing the current payments with a guaranteed minimum income.

    Explained at greater length on Don’s new thread:

  28. Amused says:

    This whole argument revolves around a series of propositions about ‘moral’ behavoiur, rational ways to deal with those who either can’t of won’t enter the labour market, and the need to find some justification in liberal discourse, for dealing with the moral hazard of providing people with an income derived from someone else’s taxes.

    I just can’t help myself. I am always amused (long since ceased being affronted) when the great and powerful worry themselves about the bludging ways and moral turpitude (always just around the corner if you are not careful) of those who committ the crime of not having enough money to live decently.

    In the real world of policy choices and actual policy prescriptions what we see is a combination of unbelievably prescriptive and intrusive policies directed at all those who are not in the labour market, who have committed the unfortunate economic solecism of not having a rich wife/husband/parent, together with labour market policies designed to increase the risks considerably of being an employee who gets in the way of a manager having a bad hair day. We also have neverending twaddle about ‘family values’ together with the amazing proposition that a woman minding her own children (if she is poor of course)is a rent seeking bludger, while if she minds someone else’s (never mind about hers while she is doing so-we are dealing with axioms here), she is a productive, fit and proper person, although of course still poor.

    I happen to think that those of us who are in work, who actually pay our taxes (unlike many who seem to have millionaire lifestyles and zero taxable income), should be given the opportunity to debate and discuss amongst ourselves what we really think about the terms and conditions upon which we think people should receive support.

    This might be usefully prosecuted by reminding every wage and salary earner that their chances of being tipped into the class of ‘undeserving poor’ has been exponentially increased by labour market policies which are designed to shift every existential risk of a market economy, as much as possible, onto their own shoulders. However I won’t hold my breath, because all we will get from Saunders and his ilk is more blather about flexibility, and the rewards of self insurance against risk. This schtik is good until the next recession mes amies, even in the US. After that, watch out-the US has a history of wild insurgency not limited to the kultur kampf waged by the right against gays and godless liberal feminists.

    Reference to Hobbes is unfortunate, and beside the point in my opinion. He was seeking a justification for the ‘sovereign’ meaning the absolute monarch’s right to absolute obedience, on the basis of a rudimentary contract theory that made the political reactionaries of the time shudder. I know we have reached right back to the late 18th century for our economic theories, and the 19th century for much of our social policy, but I really think we should eschew a completely post modernist pastiche approach to 21st century governance issues, and leave the 17th century well alone as a place for finding justifications for the exercise of political power. I like conservative tripe to be a little more, shall we say, contemporary, and I worry about the rest of the baggage that goes with C17th theories of right and might.

  29. Pingback: Club Troppo » Charles Murray vs Mal Brough

  30. Pingback: Will Wilkinson / The Fly Bottle » Blog Archive » The Politics of Human Capital

Comments are closed.