Friday, January 23, 2009

Hardworking families

It's a point that I've raised before, but the first part of this post by Paul Lockett echoes my sentiments...
Of all the emotive devices and sound bites used by politicians, the abstract “hardworking family” is the one that makes me the most nauseous. It isn’t limited to the UK either, as shown by Obama’s chosen labour secretary, who promised to "improve the opportunities for hardworking families."

We elect politicians to represent all of us, so why do they think it’s acceptable to focus all their attention on “hardworking families.” If it were just the “hardworking” or “families” it would be bad enough, but it seems that you’ve got to tick both boxes before you are worthy of appearing on your representative’s radar.

Quite. Except that it's worse than that: because "families" implies having children too and so that's another box that you need to tick. In fact, if you are single and hardworking, the government pays absolutely no attention to you beyond making sure that you are paying as much tax as possible.

Given that, the line that I take issue with is this one...
Why do families that want to work less and spend more time at home deserve to be ignored?

As far as I can see, most policies aimed at hard-working families are, in fact, policies designed to ensure that they don't have to work so hard. Essentially, if any government announces an initiative to help "hardworking families", then it's time to hang onto your wallet if you are single or an employer.

Because, ultimately, most of these policies involve the politicians deciding that said families should actually do less work and stay at home—to gain the politically mandated "work-life balanace". Paternity leave, maternity leave and the 48 hour week, for instance, are justified under the banner of helping "hardworking families" and it's not the "hardworking families" who are going to pay for them...

And that means that the rest of us pay for them.

27 comments:

someday said...

Lazy single people have rights too.

chris said...

Quite so.
What I've never understood, though, is why hard work should be praised at all. It's output that matters, not inputs. Shouldn't we instead be praising effortless superiority - or even effortless mediocrity?

Roger Thornhill said...

I agree, DK, speaking as a "Hard working Family" myself.

Chris is also right - Labour used to be harmless when it was incompetent and inefficient - now it is hard working and efficiently incompetent, like a nest incontinent mice on speed eating, treading and piddling all over your carefully arranged buffet.

Boy on a bike said...

Down here, the catch phrase for months was "working families". "hardworking" never got a look in. Maybe we are lazier here in Oz.

That statement was eventually tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail after it was used to death. Even the commentariat started to make fun of it after a while.

When I hear it now, I want to chunder.

CIngram said...

At what point does a 'hardworking family' become a filthy capitalist dynasty? As in:
I work very hard to give my family the best I can;
You are a workaholic;
He only cares about money.

Perhaps it happens when they stop voting Labour.

the a&e charge nurse said...

Devil, you haven't been attending socialist sub committees have you - this post smacks of an appeal for the sort of manufactured 'inclusiveness' you purport to despise.

The notion of 'hard working families' holds appeal simply because it is synonymous, at least in the mind of cynical politicians, with a better future ?

In general, children from 'hard working families' are probably slightly more likely to be hard working themselves (having been exposed to a certain kind of role model).

Your claims about fathers enjoying untold benefits on account of their progeny are risible.
Begrudging two weeks paternity leave, for example, makes you sound like a northern mill owner - in fact, it's verges on paranoia.

Paul Lockett said...

It's a fair point Devil. In retrospect, I think I should have been a bit more rigorous separating the "hardworking" and the "family" in my comment.

Dennis said...

If the "families" are described as "hardworking" (sic), we must assume that all the people in the family are "hardworking". This must include anyone under the age of majority, including babies.

How many "families", then, are truly "hardworking"? How many children of 5 or 6 still go up chimneys, or perform any productive function? And what about all those layabout babies, who do nothing but sleep, squawk, suck, and crap?

The catchphrase is complete nonsense.

OK, then, what about "hardworking parents"? But then that would discriminate against (a) married or cohabiting people who are childless for whatever reason and (b) singletons.

I suggest that the phrase be replaced with the following formula:

"the taxpayers, our masters".

But then, no one in office ever listens to the likes of me.

Paul Lockett said...

I've added an update to the original post which I hope clarifies the vagueness in my comment.

julymorning said...

@ A&E nurse:

Begrudging two weeks paternity leave, for example, makes you sound like a northern mill owner - in fact, it's verges on paranoia.

What is paranoid about not wishing to subsidize other people's children?

Rob Clark said...

jm, that depends slightly on whether you think there’s any such thing as society.

If not, fair enough, but if you do ask yourself who’s going to fund your pension (OK, a moot point right now), treat you when you’re sick, sell you a car, serve you in a shop or collect your rubbish. Probably someone else’s children.

In an ageing population which isn’t replenishing itself, children are a social good rather than a social evil, aren’t they?

the a&e charge nurse said...

julymorning - you may prefer to live in a solipsistic bubble, in fact I've noticed that this seems to be a consistent theme amongst many libertarians.

Each person only entitled to what they have contributed (in financial terms) - sounds a bit northern mill owner to me.

Paul Lockett said...

Rob: "In an ageing population which isn’t replenishing itself, children are a social good rather than a social evil, aren’t they?"

That's something which could be debated at great length, but even if we assume they are a social good for the sake of argument, I don't think it means that other people are morally obliged to pay for them.

I'm comfortable with the tax system being used to charge for negative externalities, such as pollution, because I don't think I've got the right to cause anybody else harm without correcting it.

Using the tax system to correct for positive externalities is something completely different. Suggesting that I contribute to somebody else's childcare costs because I'm likely to gain some future benefit sounds unfair when I haven't had any say in whether or not those costs were created.

It's a bit like my neighbour expecting me to pay towards the upkeep of his garden because I get the pleasure of looking at it. Clearly I do get some benefit from his efforts, but I don't think that entitles him to any compensation.

julymorning said...

@ A&E nurse:

I think you misunderstood my question.

I didn't ask 'what's so wrong about not wanting etc etc?'

I asked 'what's paranoid about not wanting etc etc?'

'Cause, y'see, you said that begrudging men their tiny amount of paternity leave verges on paranoia. (That's why I quoted you.) And I was sort of hoping you might elaborate on that word choice.

Instead, you accuse me of solipsism - which is ironic, because it's clearly you who's guilty of it.

Tomrat said...

DK,

Has it not occured to you that those "hardworking families" might simply be garnering back some of their hard earned cash stolen from them in tax form?

Paul Lockett said...

Tomrat, for me, that's what makes it particularly galling.

If the government takes some of my cash to fund services which can't practically be funded any other way, I can live with it, but what we seem to have now is a tax system where the government confiscates even more of your cash than it intends to spend, purely so it can give you some back if you satisfy its chosen criteria. Of course, this creates a nice big chunk of bureaucracy at the same time.

Most of the gimmicks which have been introduced in recent years just seem to be an expensive and unnecessary accompaniment to the child benefit system, which is at least universal and therefore less susceptible to being used by the government for social engineering.

Tomrat said...

Paul,

I agree wholeheartedly, but I am not angry because they are getting something whilst someone else is not, but that what they are getting is invariably having the reverse effect; political "good" is killing the "hard working family" and making them the subject of scorn for those whose wallets the government deems to "balance".

I think I understand what you are saying in the second comment but correct me if I'm wrong; you are saying that you would prefer the absence of any state funding in return for keeping more of your money which you can then "spend" on shorter hours at work to get a better balance yes?

We are not being given that option, and until then I'm taking back as much of my money as I can from the grubbing bastards; I joined the bike scheme so I could get a bike as a tax write-off and when me and my wife have our first child in 6 months I will convert as much of my salary as I can to untaxed childcare vouchers and take all the benefits I can get; it is not DK's, yours or their money now - it is my money that they have been taking from me for just such a purpose - the anger I have is that they have been squandering it in the interim.

I would rather not take it from them believe me; everything about benefits is designed to make the user feel they are a gift - they are not if you have been paying for it for years with a meager return at the end.

The real issue I see here is that when the transition from this unsustainable debt comes it can either be painful, or it can be managed, and I think any party, libertarian or otherwise, has got to think deep and hard about this paradox.

Paul Lockett said...

"I think I understand what you are saying in the second comment but correct me if I'm wrong; you are saying that you would prefer the absence of any state funding in return for keeping more of your money which you can then "spend" on shorter hours at work to get a better balance yes?"

In essence, yes, although with a caveat:

While I oppose taxes on income or sales, I whole-heartedly support the state collecting tax in certain circumstances (and at high rates), such when it is charging for a state provided service, such as exclusive oil drilling licences, broadcasting licences, road use fees, etc.

I don't think that having the state collecting those fees is a bad thing, but I do think that having the state spend them is a bad thing, because it's inefficient, leads to rent-seeking and inevitably gets used to further the government's own social agenda.

If, instead of spending it, the state just paid out the revenue in equal shares to the population, it would provide a safety net, but without the government being able to use it to enforce its own idea of what is good or bad.

Tomrat said...

Paul,

I am with the LPUK in that taxation should on sales; that way taxpayer representation is maximised.

I also believe that public services should be funded up front by council tax and managed at this level to encourage efficiency within the service, with only minimal input from Whitehall (basically The Plan, which I heartily recommend reading written by Carswell and Hannan).

I dont have a problem with licensing but I do think that this would be better managed at a local level to avoid all the problems you mention.

That still wont stop me from taking my money back from the grubbing swine now though; the trick in the future will be how best to transition from the present setup and, more importantly, the mentality and go to a setup which champions free choice whilst providing for the poorest amongst us (NOTE DK: I am not referring to the landed underclass here but the burgeoning number of real poor that live just underneath this group; the real "hard working families" who are forced to subsist on little money and state handouts either through ill fortune, disability or the state itself).

Paul Lockett said...

tomrat,

I realise this is going off topic, but the preference for sales tax is the probably the area of policy I most strongly disagree with LPUK on.

In common with income tax, I think it presents too much of an opportunity for state monitoring. When the state has a stake in every sale, it can justify gathering information about every transaction that occurs and also monitoring everybody to make sure it isn't missing anything.

The other major problem with sales taxes that I can see is that they are likely to become increasingly unenforceable. When sales were almost exclusively carried out face to face in shops, it would have been quite straightforward, but I can't see it working effectively when it is increasingly common for people to buy goods over the internet from a supplier in another country.

That's part of the reason I prefer taxes to be levied on resources which are geographically fixed in the government's jurisdiction, such as land, minerals, roads and spectrum. If the item or process being taxed can't be moved out of the area, the tax should be easier to enforce and if it's easier to enforce, the state should have less need to gather information.

In the main I agree with your preference for Council Tax. Although it has a lot of flaws, it has the benefit of being levied on something geographically fixed. If revalued frequently, it would also create positive feedback, as the areas benefiting most from public spending in a region would see relatively higher house prices and therefore pay proportionately higher tax.

With regard to taking back money under the current set-up, I have no problem with that at all. I think the system we have is a shambles, but until it changes, we've all got to make the best of a bad situation.

In terms of achieving "a setup which champions free choice whilst providing for the poorest amongst us," I still believe the citizen's dividend approach is the best way of doing that. By giving every member of the electorate a cash payment, rather than having the government spending the revenue, it would provide a safety net, while putting the spending decisions in the hands of the people using the services, rather than politicians.

Rob Clark said...

Paul,
Sorry not been around for a couple of days, but coming back to our earlier discussion, I agree absolutely with everything you say about the tax system, and in particular its inefficiencies.

Child benefit is a nonsense, IMHO. You shouldn’t be obliged to fund my decision to have children, though like Tomcat if it’s there I’m going to take advantage of it – I find it covers my subscription to Sky Sports quite nicely, without which I would be a much grumpier bastard.

However, if you believe that in this moment in time children are a social good – and I fully accept that is an assumption we could debate for hours (days?) – I’m not convinced by your analogy.

It’s more fundamental than simply deriving a possible future benefit, it’s a question of the functioning of society. So you don’t want to contribute to someone’s childcare costs? Fine. But if that child grows up to be a doctor, why should he or she be obliged to treat you?

OK, so that’s a reductio ad absurdum, but if you only pay taxes towards things you deem appropriate, what justification is there for you to benefit from things to which you haven’t contributed?

Is there such a thing as ‘the greater good’? I’m not sure to be honest, but I don’t think it’s black and white. For example, I don’t give a flying fuck about my carbon footprint but if reducing emissions can be proven beneficial (a moot point right now, I feel, but that’s a whole different debate), I guess I can live with higher petrol taxes, for example.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Rob,

"So you don’t want to contribute to someone’s childcare costs? Fine. But if that child grows up to be a doctor, why should he or she be obliged to treat you?"

That sentence is a joke, right?

Why should the doctor be obliged to treat me? Because that is what they are fucking paid for.

Why should I do anything for my clients? Because that is what I am paid to do!

"OK, so that’s a reductio ad absurdum..."

No, it's not. It's just stupid.

"... but if you only pay taxes towards things you deem appropriate, what justification is there for you to benefit from things to which you haven’t contributed?"

None: that is why we would sort out alternatives where possible (e.g. health insurance, unemployment benefit) and pay where not (e.g. roads). But if I pay money to my health insurance (whether through the state's insurance scheme (ha! sorry, the state's Ponzi scheme) or to a private insurer), why the living fuck should some doctor not treat me because I didn't pay his parents to have him?

Fucking hellski...

DK

Rob Clark said...

Devil,

I don’t pretend to have all the answers – hence all the question marks!

But what health insurance are you talking about? You don’t pay an NHS doctor directly, they are paid by the state, so there isn’t a direct financial relationship between you and the individual doctor concerned (maybe there should be but that’s a different debate), it’s all filtered through the state.

Where the State is in control of these things – and personally I’d far rather it wasn’t, but currently it is – it can’t be expected to ask each of us what aspects of taxation we are happy to contribute to and which we aren’t.

Some people wouldn’t choose to fund the NHS, others wouldn’t choose to fund schooling, or refuse collection, or pensions (yeah OK sick joke). It just wouldn’t be practical.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Rob,

"But what health insurance are you talking about? You don’t pay an NHS doctor directly, they are paid by the state, so there isn’t a direct financial relationship between you and the individual doctor concerned (maybe there should be but that’s a different debate), it’s all filtered through the state."

Yes, but if one could opt out of paying for Child Benefit, some doctor could not refuse to treat me because I did not pay towards their Child Benefit.

Besides, I have private health insurance and there are private A&Es and private GPs in London. Not that I've needed to see a GP for years.

DK

Rob Clark said...

I didn’t mean to imply that an individual doctor could refuse to treat you, personally, but if you had never contributed to the NHS then, IMHO, you wouldn’t have any moral right to access its services.

So if you refused to contribute to childcare, would you have the right to access the services they offer?

Of course, if you pay them directly, that’s a different matter, but in the case of State-provided services (NHS, schools, refuse collection etc) where you don’t have the same kind of direct financial relationship why would you be entitled to benefit from a service to which you haven”t contributed?

I’d rather see far less personal taxation and far greater freedom for individuals to dispose of their ‘hard-earned’ money how they like, but I suspect we’re in agreement over that…

Devil's Kitchen said...

Rob,

This is, of course, the problem: one of the reasons that these services were set up in the first place was so that those who could not afford to pay would nevertheless benefit. That is, in fact, the only reason that they should exist.

There are 3 million households in Britain in which no one works. In many of these, it will be the case that no one has ever worked and never paid for any services. At all.

Should we then say that their children cannot go to school? That their rubbish should not be collected? That they should not have any benefit income at all? (Of course, I incline that way, but I'm not sure whether you do.)

DK

WV: screming

Rob Clark said...

‘Of course, I incline that way, but I'm not sure whether you do.)’

Sterilise the lot of ’em, I say.

I’m probably inclined the same way as you, but I doubt we’re ever going to see a government that thinks that way…

I guess on balance I am in favour of a safety net but I don’t think it should be quite as comfortable an option as it appears to be at present.