Saturday, July 03, 2010

The poor and choices

Shuggy is up in arms about Our New Coalition Overlords' proposal to pay benefits in the form of food vouchers.
The obvious solution to poverty, which is simply to give the poor more money, is unacceptable to our new 'progressive' coalition overlords. They understand that money gives people choices and in the case of the poor, this would never do because they would just make the 'wrong' choices.

Yeah, sure. And yet no.

The government has no money of its own: it only has what it takes from its people through tax.

As such, the government cannot simply "give the poor more money" without first taking it from other people; the people that they take it from then become poorer.

(Many, in fact, are pushed below the poverty line (as estimated by, say, the Rowntree Foundation) after this money is taken from them.)

But the money given to the poor is supposed to serve a certain purpose—that is, to allow them to stay alive. Even Beveridge maintained that benefits should only be at a "subsistance level".

If there is a social contract, it is that those of us who work agree to be taxed to ensure that those who have no work are not lying about, starving in the streets. This is a cost of living in a society, and it also answers the demands of basic humanity.

But the money does not belong to the poor to do what they want with it, it is not provided to give them "choices": it is there for a specific purpose—to ensure that they can stay alive. If they want "choices" then they must go out and earn their own cash.

In other words, the government aren't proposing taking "choices" away from people because they are poor; they are proposing to do so because the money does not belong to those in receipt of it—it is not theirs to do as they will with.

Imagine if a friend of yours asked to borrow £50 off you because he was starving; it's £50 that you cannot really afford (and you're pretty sure that you won't get it back any time soon), but you give it to help him in extremis.

You'd be pretty annoyed if, a few hours later, you found him buying rounds for his mates in the pub, would you not?

Of course, none of this means that I subscribe to the idea of vouchers. No.

If, for instance, a family on benefits chooses to go without food so that they can afford the bus fare to send their child to the best school that they can, then that is a choice that I applaud. And, unless the bus driver takes food vouchers, then such instruments will, indeed, take away choice. It will even take away the choice of a dole claimant to travel to a job interview—and that is hardly desirable, is it?

Given that, I must also allow people the freedom to make choices that I would not condone too.

But, as a general rule, if the poor have enough money to have "choices" then we are giving them too much of other people's money; where is the morality in removing "choices" from a group of people who have earned them, so that you can give "choices" to another (who have not)?

If the poor want choices, then they must either earn their own money to make it with, or apply to a charitable organisation to help them. The money that is extorted from other people should be used to ensure that people stay alive—not live.

Quite simply, if you want to live, then you must earn your own living, not steal it from others.


Lord Blagger said...

I agree - BUT.

If you give the poor money to spend on themselves, at least they have an incentive to get value for money.

If the government does their shopping for them, its someone spending someone elses money on a third person. That's the most likely to result in bad value for money.

neil craig said...

Since collecting taxes & disbursing the money cost money the amount of money (ie freedom by that argument) lost by taxpayers is greater than that gained by dole recipients. My guess would be that about 1/3rd of money is spent in administration but that takes no account of unnecessary government activity which is much easier to fund when there is a lot of money sloshing around anyway.

John said...

I agree with the soup kitchen point - elegant and simple.

Stephen said...

You could satisfy your 'human right' to choices by stealing directly from people's wallets. Do you think this would be acceptable?

But he is not stealing so your question is irrelevant.

truths33k3r said...

Giving the poor fiat currency IS giving them tokens. Until we address the massive welfare for the rich and middle classes I suggest we go easy on the poor.

Oh yeah? So what has happened for the last ten years, exactly?

Over at the ASI, they are posting some of the winning entries of the Young Writers on Liberty. One does not want to put such keen minds off,...