Ethics and dole-bludging

Meika the Dolebludger has been writing a novel, and it’s nearly finished. An intensely thoughtful (if perversely prickly) individual, Meika poses the following question?

Now, a[n] ethical problem. As a longterm dolebludger, should I:-

A) sell it to a mainstream print publisher with the usual copyright deals, and hopefully get off the dole, or,
B) offer it to people on a Creative Commons licence, in view of the fact that I have been on the dole so long.

What do you think? Meika is a 40 year old (or thereabouts) bloke who lives in Tasmania with his wife and child. He has an MA in Applied Science but has been unemployed for the greater part of the last 20 years. It’s fairly clear that his unemployment for at least the first half of that period was in large part a matter of choice, attitude and lifetyle. But for the last 5 or 6 years at least, there’s no doubt he’s been a serious job-seeker who has failed to get full-time work through a combination of age, lack of experience, being over-qualified, and perhaps a vaguely disquieting fear on the part of potential employers that he’s quite a lot smarter than they are and might conceivably be a workplace troublemaker. Meika wrote about his experiences as a dolebludger almost 3 years ago on Online Opinion.

It seems to me that it’s greatly to meika’s credit that he would even bother to ask the ethical question of what he should do with the copyright from his book. David Tiley is probably correct that it’s unlikely to prove a financial goldmine for meika (although you never know – the much less ethical DBC Pierre struck Booker Prize paydirt with his first novel Vernon God Little). Personally I don’t have any problem with meika keeping the fruits of his own intellectual endeavours, despite surviving at taxpayers’ expense for so long. His life has clearly been a lot more productive and useful than most “dolebludgers” and quite a few in the employed workforce as well.

Moreover, and especially given that meika’s home state Tasmania hasn’t enjoyed anywhere near full employment for a very long time, I don’t think we should view Centrelink benefits solely as a privilege that makes recipients effective indentured slaves to the state until they’re paid back. I support broadly the principle of mutual obligation in relation to welfare benefits, although the extent to which the Commonwealth under the Howard government fulfils its side of the obligation bargain in providing meaningful job retraining programs is questionable to say the least. But there are numerous ways in which an unemployed person can fulfil societal obligations in return for income support, and genuine artistic and intellectual creativity is one of them. Of course there’s a potential problem in guarding against welfare abuse and malingering if we accept that principle without qualification, but I think the extent of the problem can be overstated and it’s clear that meika’s situation (in recent years at least) doesn’t involve either abuse or malingering.

PS – Another article on Online Opinion that is relevant to this question is one by Anna Yeatman entitled Mutual obligation and the ethics of individualised citizenship. And Evatt Foundation has also published a thought-provoking paper by Jeremy Moss titled Ethics, politics & mutual obligation.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

I can empthasize with the latter part ofhis life however if Meika doesn’t want to live a life free of government suport then he is not very smart at all.

Rowen
2022 years ago

While I doubt the Government would smile on it if they knew his plan, I don’t see much wrong with pocketing the royalties, provided it got him off the dole. Unemployment benefits are supposed to be to help you move into employment, which is potentially what he has done with it.

Obviously from the government’s point of view the dole isn’t an arts grant, but that’s administration, not ethics.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

why is this question being asked at all? Has Meika’s claim been perfectly legal? Have the authorities approved it? Then he can do what he damned well likes, it doesn’t matter how productive he’s been. Regardless of what you may think about welfare benefits and their open-endedness, if he’s made a legal claim then that’s all there is to it. The liberal order is not about inherent merit or productiveness, it is about the best arrangements for minimising conflict and machinery for administering public goods. My 2 cents as a classical liberal.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Jason

Surely you’re not suggesting that law and ethics/morality are coterminous? Adam Smith advocated the good old invisible hand of the market, but assumed that participants entered the market and acted as fully-formed moral agents, socialised through family, church, community etc (although those assumptions seem less clearcut in more recent liberal gurus like Hayek and Popper). Are you suggesting that we sould all acknowledge only the obligations the law imposes on ourselves, and feel entirely free to act as unethically as we like as long as our behaviour is within the law? What a delightful society that would be.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

“Surely you’re not suggesting that law and ethics/morality are coterminous? ”

Well, yes, sort of, and in this particular case, most certainly. Ethics is just one means of doing what law aims to do – namely the promotion of general happiness – and if all men were angels, then we could rely solely on ethics and not law. The relevant consideration here is that welfare is a collective good, in this case a form of insurance and how great is the danger that if meika was not rebuked, and more meikas were encouraged, the provision of the good would be unsustainable. What we define as ‘fraudulent’and therefore illegal has already taken into account what constitutes such conduct. Conduct that is borderline to this but within the bounds of legality is the level of slack that presumably the system has already been programmed to more efficiently tolerate than penalise.

blank
blank
2022 years ago

What does the spouse of “Meika the dole-bludger” do, and how old is the child?

To maximise government income, the “smart” thing to do is have two children, then split up, taking a child each. Then both can get Parenting Payment Single.

PPS is more than the dole, there is no work test, the income free area is greater than the dole (i.e. can earn more before benefit is reduced), rent assistance is greater, and if a PPS person does some study, she/he will get an extra allowance.

A single person who goes back to study get the paltry Austudy Payment, and no rent assistance -really smart.

The downside is the cost of running two households, but in reality that means maintaining a separate address, rather than living apart.

All perfectly legal.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Which demonstrates powerfully why I don’t accept Jason’s position that legality and ethics are coterminous.

Jim
Jim
2022 years ago

Ken,
You may be overlooking a more obvious reason why he’s been unemployed for so long – it’s perhaps because he’s been unemployed for so long.
Like it or not , an employer has to make a subjective judgement of a person’s abilities,experience and motivation before hiring them.
Hearing from someone that they’ve been unemployed for 15 years will lead naturally to suspicions of how genuinely serious they are about making a committment.
The last 5 years of no work might well be a consequence of the choices of the previous 15 years?
I’ve known a few such people, it’s fortunate (for them) that the vast majority of us don’t make the same choices.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Jim

My reading of meika’s original article “Policy, personal choice and polemics: why I am a dole bludger” suggests that he would agree with your observations i.e. that he is in considerable part a captive of the (stupid) choices he made in the past:

“As a result of my younger choices I am unemployable. As employers move through a list of applicants I will always be rejected well before any selection process begins using selection criteria. Employers are hoping to make a safe selection. A cull must take place first. No one else has ever selected me, others have always rejected me, therefore “we’ll be damned if we take that risk”.

But my symbolic rejection of the economy is of no consequence to employers whatsoever. I cannot even claim to have been discriminated against. They would be negligent in their duties if they employed me. …”

Robert
2022 years ago

I’m not sure that I understand why Jason is complaining about this discussion. Meika doesn’t appear to be raising a question as to the legality of what he’s done/is going to do. Rather, he’s presented two perfectly legal options that are available to him, and has asked for advice about which to choose.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

Robert
I’m not complaining about the discussion, I’m participating in it. Nor is my opinion about the legality but whether the legality in this case equates to ethical behaviour and I think on the terms of the implicit contract it is

Robert
2022 years ago

Ah, sorry. I thought your question (“Why is this question being asked at all?”) implied that the discussion was pointless. You also did not offer an opinion on which option Meika ought take. Your latest comment reiterates the fact that the legality and ethics of his decision are the same, but that doesn’t offer him any assistance in choosing between two legal, ethical options. Then again, neither have I.

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

Very interesting. I reckon he should go creative commons. He may or may not regret the choices he has made, but I think he respects them – he has some commitment to telling some coherent story of his life that does not scream ‘repudiation of past ways’ in the middle of it. I think going CC would be truer to this aspiration.

Also, I’m afraid I’m tempted to be censorious about his choice. One test of the seriousness of ethical purpose is the preparedness to accept the consequences of one’s decision oneself. In this case a particular feature of the welfare state allowed him to externalise the cost onto others. All in the name of his ethical commitment. I smell a rat I’m afraid.

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

Farmwers get subsidies, acaemics get subsidies, exporteers get subsadies, taxdodgers get sudsdais , Tesltra gets subdsidsew ,all feckin tasnanians get sudsidies, th epricess gets subsidies . a dole budeger only owens me 35 -40 hours wa wwek why the fuck cant her or her writ w novel outsife the 40 hour week . take the nmoney an run . if it seels mepore than 2000 goof dlick

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

Francis is having a good night!

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

Robert
My view does have a recommendation – namely that meika shouldn’t feel guilty and if he wants the money he should take it.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

anyway from a pure efficiency point of view, the probability that he will get off the dole is higher if he does a copyright deal then if he doesn’t, so is the moral outrage really worth reducing the probability that he will now get off the dole? what is the means-ends here? is the ends moral outrage for the sake of moral outrage or does moral outrage only useful if it achieves results – in this case a welfare system that has a higher probability of having one less person to support and is therefore marginally more sustainable? for me morality/ethics serves social utility, not the other way around.

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

I also agree with Jason, but would put another spin on it. I might be wrong, but this guy comes across as way too precious about his morality. His writig suggests to me that it’s led him to screw up his life – I expect it hasn’t done those close to him any favours (that’s sheer presumption on my part I accept) and he didn’t do me any favours either (By my rough calculations it’s cost me around one cent to keep him for twenty odd years so I don’t have any hard feelings.)

But he should just do what he wants, and try to get a life – as they say these days.

Anthony
Anthony
2022 years ago

I’ve known him for over 20 years and Meika’s never struck me as prickly, Ken. Perverse is another matter…
But I find his question more than a little odd. If we accept the notion (which I don’t) that Meika ‘owes’ society for his lifetime of welfare payments, then to put it bluntly his offer of CCLing his unfinished novel is rather meagre recompense. Imagine if at the start of his dolebludger career, Meika had made this deal with the government: ‘you must support me for my whole life, and in return in 20 years I shall write a novel and make it freely available over the internet (which will have been invented by then)’.
I mean, maybe his novel’s great. Maybe it’s not. (I hope it is, but I have to admit that Meika’s writing and I have never seen eye-to-eye). Either way, making it available via CCL only benefits those who like to keep up with new fiction by virtually unknown Tasmanian writers, while trying to publish it might result in earning an income, which could lead to reducing or stopping his drain on the taxpayers and would at least please the anti-dolebludger crowd. It could even conceivably improve his material circumstances and self-esteem.
But rather than go down that road, like some other commenters I’d suggest the that the notion of ‘owing’ for welfare payments is misguided. He’s on the dole because he doesn’t have a job, and can satisfy the requirements. End of story. He is writing a novel, just as he has previously written poetry. With luck people will want to read it, in that case kudos to him. If he can get a publisher, that’s great. If not, CCL to his heart’s content. In any event, he is not the first artist living primarily on welfare, and doubtless will not be the last.

Also I wish I had some of what FXH has. (But perhaps not so much).

meika
2022 years ago

So now, the question seems to be rephrased here in the comments conversation, as…

Is tomorrow’s cost to be avoided, ahead of recouping yesterday’s costs?

If so, tell him to go copyright…

So far my inclination _is_ to go copyright, thought I am very sympathetic to the creative commons.

For, there is a higher ‘probability’ i can go off the dole (and no longer be a just a costly exercise).

Afterall, I can always smugly externalise my work on the commons later.

(BTW where are the left wing death beasts in the blogroll, all shot out??)

Mindy
Mindy
2022 years ago

Meika I think that if you have been looking for work while on the dole, which I understand you have, then you have done all that anyone on the dole is required to do. If you then choose to spend the rest of your time writing a novel good for you.

I hope you sell millions.

PB
PB
2022 years ago

Or maybe he’s just a lazy parasite with no sense of right, no self-esteem and nor scruples? Buggered if I know, but I have a brother-in-law who sounds almost identical to “Meika” and to whom it has been made plain he is not welcome at my house- a human tick. Even more reason to allow the market to run welfare- take out insurance for unemployment, when it runs out its a choice of “you want fries with that?” or starvation in a skip. See how many 20 year unemployment veterans there are when a life of leisure in not a subsidised option.

Paul Watson
2022 years ago

The way meika has framed his choice

tony
2022 years ago

He should reserve all rights to his work and flog it to the highest bidder.

I hope he makes a lot of money, which, being taxable, will go some way (or all the way if it’s very successful) to repay society for supporting him for all those years.

adrian
2022 years ago

Is not Meika’s dilema simply due to the hurdle of securing a publisher ? To wit, if the book was any good, would he be even proffering this ‘ethical’ question ?

And what of self-publishing. He obviously prefers the bucks-who doesn’t-but can’t countenance the risk. I reckon he should get a loan, self-publish, and have a friggin’ go. For once in his bludging life.

meika
2022 years ago

self-publishing is easy, very easy, no money required

i am working on a photo-essay book at the moment too, I will print it (end of year??) with money from Howards re-election baby money, but its on a back burner until the novel is done

the real killer for hard in the hand print copies is distribution, and of course ‘publicity’

the creative commons is mostly a electronic venture, it recognise the cost of reproduction is low…. better stop before i lecture too much

electronic copies however, easy to supply, no loan needed, a website or just peer-to-peer filesharing