liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
[personal profile] ewt wanted to know your take on poverty in the UK and elsewhere and what, if anything, you think should be done about it (and by whom).

This is the kind of good question that gets to the heart of where I come from politically. I suppose basically I think some amount of poverty or at least economic inequality is inevitable, if people ever have the freedom to make bad decisions at all. I also think a lot of UK and global poverty right now is being deliberately orchestrated, and what I really want is for the governments of rich countries to stop doing that, which I think would improve things a lot before we get to more positive anti-poverty initiatives.

So yes, the first thing that should be "done about" poverty in the UK is to end punitive benefit sanctions. I am agnostic about whether the absolute amount of benefits should be raised, but people should be paid their entitlements regularly and reliably, and not be made to jump through ridiculous hoops. I can just about see an argument for making unemployment benefit conditional on job hunting, but that needs to be implemented in an actually fair way. That means not punishing people for failing to apply for jobs that don't exist, and not forcing people to take completely unsuitable and insecure jobs rather than waiting a few weeks longer for a decent job with prospects that actually matches their skillset. The point of having an unemployment benefit at all is to give people a cushion so that they can take the best job, not necessarily the first job. And there should absolutely not be sanctions for any other benefit; sickness and disability benefits should not require people to jump through hoops at all, and housing benefit should be purely calculated on income and not on behaviour.

But even more importantly than that, there needs to be an end to the culture of sanctioning people who are in fact doing absolutely everything they can to apply for any jobs going, and people who are plainly too ill to work, in order to meet secret targets for benefit sanctions. It is becoming more and more apparent that job centre staff are rewarded for making "mistakes" that lead to people losing their benefits for weeks on end and punished for being actually fair to benefit recipients. If sanctions must be applied at all, say to the very rare few people who are trying to cheat the system, those sanctions need to be in a format that doesn't drive people into poverty. Nobody should ever be sanctioned such that they have literally no money coming in for weeks or months, which seems to be happening more and more lately. At worst cheats should be fined a certain proportion of their benefits over a payment term long enough to be manageable; if benefits are meant to be at the minimum level it's possible to live on, (and there's a strong argument that these days they fall well below that), then obviously it is not possible for someone on benefits to save up enough to live for months with no income. Starving and being made homeless are not proportionate punishments for minor financial fraud; even the most terrible criminals have the human right to adequate food and shelter.

I've seen so many statistics showing that it's benefit sanctions plus bureaucratic delays in benefit payments that are the biggest contributors to people needing to use foodbanks and payday loans. And this is an entirely avoidable cause of poverty! Even if the treasury doesn't have enough money to properly support those who need it, (which I'm not convinced is true, I think it's a matter of political priorities), getting rid of the sanctions would help a lot. It would save all the money currently spent on trying to catch people out for cheating, when cheating is a tiny proportion of the cost of benefits anyway (and I suspect quite a large proportion of what's classed as cheating is unintentional, it's people failing to understand what has become a hugely unwieldy system.) And more importantly, it would save the costs to society caused by actively driving more and more people into extreme poverty. It seems to me an obvious advantage to society if we support people for a while so that they can stay in their homes and sort their lives out, and have a reasonable chance of eventually getting back into employment and becoming net contributors to the economy.

There are other causes of poverty which I think are primarily driven by deliberate policies, not by individual people's bad choices. The fact that the government keeps acting to prop up house prices, even though house prices are ridiculously over-inflated, especially in the south-east, instead of acting to return house prices to a more affordable level. The way that rights for both tenants and employees are being undermined, meaning that there are more and more people in employment who nevertheless aren't earning enough to live on, and people who are decent, reliable tenants are losing their homes for ridiculous reasons like revenge evictions. The austerity programme in general; barring people from access to legal representation, education and even, increasingly, healthcare, does not save the economy nearly as much money as it costs by driving people further into poverty.

Beyond ceasing to expend political effort on making more and more people poor, what should we positively be doing? This is where I start to get uncertain. I am very ambivalent about redistributive economic policy, my ideal economic model is that people should contribute to the infrastructure of the country where they live, and beyond that should have the right to keep what they earn. I generally care more about raising the floor, the economic status of the poorest in society, than I do about narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor. If everybody had enough to eat and a safe place to live and access to healthcare and education, it would not bother me that society also includes multi-millionaires with more money than they know what to do with.

So, who should be doing something about those who have less? I'm right-wing enough that I don't think the answer is necessarily the state. I kind of liked in theory the idea of the Tories' Big Society, sharing support for those in need between charities and volunteer orgs, the private sector, and the state, but in fact Conservative policy is not only not helping, but actively preventing anyone from doing anything to relieve poverty, like the threats made against the Trussell Trust, closing down Remploy, making it harder and harder for charities and third sector organizations to survive.

In a lot of ways I want to see people helped to be able to support themselves, for example with education and training, rather than simply being given money in ways that can lead to a culture of dependency and also is a bottomless pit, because it doesn't fix the underlying reason why they needed money in the first place. But I also feel that society needs to be able to carry those people who can't perform enough labour to cover their costs of living (which is everybody for at least a third of their lives and many people for more than that). Children, the elderly, the long-term sick, people whose contributions to society are more spiritual than measurable in terms of producing stuff or "making money" should all be regarded as a collective responsibility, and the people who care for them should be rewarded for the valuable work they're doing. Whether that's in terms of directly paying a salary or providing infrastructural support or some combination, I'm not sure, but it shouldn't be just dumped onto women with few economically valued skills. A lot of poverty is caused by parents and carers who are busy doing valuable work and therefore don't have time to earn money in paid employment being abandoned, and their labour is a hidden but important part of the economy which should be recognized.

One thing I'd like to see is organizations with enough clout to make a difference getting seriously Biblical on usurers. It may be that the only way to get rid of exploitative, high-interest loans is legislation, but a serious boycott and protest campaign might do some good, as might providing ethical lending alternatives. I'm impressed with what the Church of England under ++Welby is doing about this, for example.

As for international poverty, I am no expert on it but I do see a lot of instances of rich countries taking deliberate action to keep poor countries poor. Everything from unfair and protectionist trade agreements to actual military invasion of anywhere that looks like it might be an economic rival to the US or might be developing a political system other than a kind of capitalism artificially skewed against regions that aren't already rich. Those things should stop and that would again do a lot for poverty, even ahead of any positive commitment to international aid. In particular rich countries should stop trying to call in debt from the developing world; most of those countries only "owe" us money because they were forced into unfair loan arrangements in the post-colonialist era, so we have no moral right to it. And the difference it makes to rich countries to be able to collect interest on these unfair loans is tiny, whereas these payments are really hobbling the countries that have to pay it and preventing them from growing their economies. Demilitarization and debt forgiveness are my number one priorities for foreign policy, basically, not that I have any parties to vote for who are interested in pursuing such a foreign policy.

Beyond that my guess is that what's needed internationally is a mixture of education, including improved access to contraception, and development of technology which would allow regions to make more out of few resources. I'm biased in favour of education and scientific advances anyway, so it's not surprising that I favour that as a means of addressing poverty. But agricultural and energy technology, plus logistical strategies to be able to distribute things like food and other vital physical resources to remote areas, plus cheaper medicines and cheap, sustainable housing, I think would all be likely to do more long-term good than charities or governments generously offering a tiny proportion of the wealth from the industrialized world to poorer areas.

So that's what I think should be done, but I don't see any way to get there from here, there are too many powerful interests relying on continued poverty and increasing desperation both in the UK and internationally.

Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong, I am not hugely emotionally attached to these views so I'm happy for this post to trigger a debate!

[December Days masterpost]

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Date: 2014-12-13 06:05 pm (UTC)
crystalpyramid: crystal pyramid suspended in dimensional abnormality (Default)
From: [personal profile] crystalpyramid
Speaking as a fairly liberal American... are these really right-wing positions in the UK, and you're expecting your dissent from the left? This all sounds quite excellent to me.

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Date: 2014-12-13 06:17 pm (UTC)
cjwatson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cjwatson
This is interesting because I don't think of these as right-wing positions at all, except in that the left is generally associated with statism, but I think of that as only one part of a general notion of collective responsibility vs. individualism.

(Though personally I tend to favour statism to a rather greater extent, because I believe it can act more efficiently and equitably than things like individual philanthropy, and would prefer tax rates to be higher with something like a citizen's income. On the other hand my problem with statism is that it too often goes hand in hand with an authoritarian outlook.)
Edited (clarify statism) Date: 2014-12-13 06:21 pm (UTC)

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Date: 2014-12-13 07:06 pm (UTC)
jae: (politicalgecko)
From: [personal profile] jae
Speaking as a lefty Canadian who's lived in a bunch of countries (including yours, and including the UK), I'd argue that internationally speaking, [personal profile] liv's views are more centrist than right-wing. (Internationally speaking, the U.S. use of the term 'liberal' to mean 'left-wing' or at least 'left-wing-by-U.S.-standards' is also extremely confusing when it comes to these kinds of views, by the way, but that's beside the point.)

And for the record, [personal profile] liv, while I do disagree with you on most of this, I'm delighted to read about your views because they're well thought through and not completely driven by knee-jerk "this must be right because it's what I'm used to" sentiment, which I appreciate.


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Date: 2014-12-15 12:06 pm (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
The Left in the UK is much more statist I think. The latest greatest policy notion being waved about is a Universal Basic Income Guarantee or Citizen's Income...

I think the big problem I have with "people should be able to keep the fruits of their hard work" style policies is that I see a lot of people with a *lot* of money who do almost *no* work, and a lot of people who work really really hard for little or no pay. I think we (as a society) really really over-value some forms of work and massively undervalue others. Now, maybe we could fix *that*. But while we work on it I think we need to take from the rich to give to the poor because no-one should be starving and homeless while other people are buying holidays in space.

I think income inequality is, in itself, a bad thing. I don't think we can do away with it entirely; but I do think that it is Just Bad that a CEO can earn 100x as much as the person who cleans their toilets or looks after their children.

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Date: 2014-12-13 06:15 pm (UTC)
alexseanchai: colliding galaxies? (Galaxy)
From: [personal profile] alexseanchai
I suppose basically I think some amount of poverty or at least economic equality is inevitable, if people ever have the freedom to make bad decisions at all.

Economic inequality, surely?

I don't think true economic equality is actually possible. I do however think we can do away with poverty and minimize economic inequality at the same time. I imagine that might take a higher tax rate than you're really happy with on the richest segments of society, though.

I keep thinking I ought to study economics in order to have a better idea of how all this BS works, but I also keep thinking things not unlike [care] labour is a hidden but important part of the economy which should be recognized, does one quantify care labor? How does one quantify a shade tree? How does one quantify art? (That last is what you're getting at with contributions to society [that] are more spiritual than measurable in terms of producing stuff or "making money", or at least one of the things you're getting at, yes?) And what can't be quantified is really hard to figure into the economy, at least as currently envisioned by all the economics teachers. So studying economics would probably infuriate me more than educate me.

I agree with your suspicion that a lot of poverty is a deliberate decision by the wealthier and more powerful elements of society. (Because one can't be rich if someone else isn't poor, apparently.) I'm thinking of how, in the US, we have more empty homes, deteriorating for lack of occupants who do upkeep, than we have homeless people—but God forbid we give the homes to the homeless people! As for "getting seriously Biblical on usurers", well, this side of the pond you have to first convince people that usury is anti-Biblical, and how dare you quote Scripture to do it! I hate the prosperity gospel.

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Date: 2014-12-13 10:32 pm (UTC)
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
From: [personal profile] oursin
While I think there is very definitely a place for a voluntary sector within society, as ginger groups for particular causes raising awareness and ensuring that they are on the radar and possibly acting as a test-bed for innovatory ways of tackling issues, histories of social welfare incline me to a fairly strong belief in the importance of impersonal state provision that people can access as a right. People rightly hated having to go cap in hand to Poor Law authorities or charitable bodies.

Also (speaking as someone becoming an elderly person) I am infuriated by the rhetoric about these dreadful Old People who are a drain on the system: that would be the system that they have paid into and supported for their whole lives. The term 'National Insurance' should be a clue (that is aside from contributions made as tax-payers): insurance companies may moan and groan and try to weasel about paying out, but ultimately, that is what they signed up for. Ditto the state. (Lloyd George thou should be living at this hour).

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Date: 2014-12-13 11:34 pm (UTC)
merrythebard: (Light through trees (ohsweetwitchery))
From: [personal profile] merrythebard
Speaking as an exceedingly left-wing person, I'm not remotely annoyed with this post, and was actually almost punching the air in agreement for most of it. :-)

I am (unsurprisingly) much more in favour of state intervention than you are, but I don't hold to it as the only possible way to run a country well. I have no faith in the market as a means of ordering society, but I do have anarchist as well as socialist tendencies, and a lot of respect for how much decency people are capable of exhibiting towards each other. I remain rather impressed by the concept of the Big Society, even though I was scathing from the beginning at the possibility that Cameron et al were sincere in suggesting it! (And, as you say, the Coalition's actions are making it a far harder goal to achieve. There's been a lot of anger on a disability rights group I belong to on Facebook over the past few days because people are (still) having their ESA cut for doing voluntary work. Nggyaarrrggghh.)

...there are too many powerful interests relying on continued poverty and increasing desperation both in the UK and internationally.

That's basically where I am at the moment. :-( I'm a Green Party member, may well vote Labour tactically at the next election since I live in a Labour/Tory marginal. I've lost any confidence that any party can both gain power within Westminster and remain uncorrupted by those interests you mention: a few more Green MPs I think could make a lot of positive difference, but if they get big enough in England* to become a threat to the main parties, I worry what might happen to their policies and integrity. I think they'd get leaned on.

All in all I'm feeling fairly pessimistic about it all. Though also heartened at how many awesome and decent and brilliant people there are thinking about this stuff, yourself very much included!

*I don't think it's that bad in Wales and Scotland yet, which does give me some hope.
Edited Date: 2014-12-13 11:36 pm (UTC)

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Date: 2014-12-13 11:39 pm (UTC)
merrythebard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] merrythebard
I should say that my other point of disagreement is that I do think that inequality at the UK level (or even quite a bit below) is intrinsically harmful, and would remain so even if everyone here had enough to live on. However, I don't think that absolute perfect equality is needed, just a much, much smaller multiple of wealth between the poorest and richest members of society.

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Date: 2014-12-14 12:10 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
I'm an Australian leftist and your comment is exactly what I would have put. I live in a very small rural town, so I get to see a balance between the state providing and people taking care of each other in a way that doesn't necessarily work as well on a bigger scale. (It's much easier to accept or ask for help when you know that you'll be helping someone else later.)

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Date: 2014-12-13 11:55 pm (UTC)
mirrorshard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mirrorshard
This is an excellent post.

I'm much more in favour of state intervention than you are, partly because attempting to alleviate poverty without state intervention has been tried in the past in this country and failed miserably - it's only after the postwar settlement that absolute poverty started dropping. Granted, changes in the economic system (technology and logistics, as you mention in the post) may render the model of the prewar era less useful, but it's hard to tell.

A couple of informational points, speaking as someone who's been living on benefits - firstly, the basic rate of JSA is enough to live on, if you are a healthy single adult living in a city or large town outside London with no car, no dependents, no need to rely on medication or drugs, and no expensive food restrictions. With every change from that, life becomes less and less sustainable.

Secondly, with the best will in the world and the best understanding of the regulations for claimants, it's still sometimes impossible to avoid running foul of sanctions - given Jobcentre Plus's typical 2-3 week delay in responding to letters, and their habit of sending out the wrong form on occasion, it's very hard to report changes in an accurate and timely fashion. The only time I was sanctioned (as opposed to random stoppages because they lost information, or the expected Atos failures) it was because I had told them that I'd started volunteering at a night shelter, and not filled in and returned the "permitted work" form they sent me in error.

My feeling is that the lack of effective poverty alleviation is due to a combination of perverse incentives and institutional prejudice against the poor - it's not as though any benefit claimants were invited to help set policy, after all. No, that job goes to Serco executives and City bankers.

My #1 priority for reducing poverty would be to roll back privatisation of national infrastructure - ie. things that help poor people at first hand, like the NHS, utilities, and public transport. That would stop both the financial drain and the time sink that are dealing with the current expensive and labyrinthine systems, both of which affect poor people much more in proportion.

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Date: 2014-12-14 12:15 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
I have been strangely heartened by Australian politics this year - after the crushing despair of how absolutely awful the Abbott government's plans were (for example, young people don't get paid the dole AT ALL for six months of every year, people under 35 who are not totally and permanently disabled to be kicked off disability benefits) and how everyone has been really fucking outraged about them. Few to none of the proposed changes have made it through the Senate, and my state kicked out a single-term Liberal government mostly on the basis of how cruel the Federal Govt. is. A good response on, if only we could manage to be less racist about immigration and refugees!

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Date: 2014-12-14 05:19 am (UTC)
heliopausa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heliopausa
and somewhere even slightly less mean-spirited and saner about climate change. (I'm also from a small Australian rural town; Libs have just lost a by-election here, in a formerly Lib, more recently independent seat.)

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Date: 2014-12-14 11:08 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Unsurprisingly, I heavily endorse the first half, about what has been going wrong recently. But have all the mixed feels about the second half, things I think I should think about more, and things I'm really skeptical of... That I maybe want to try to braindump in person, I'm not sure if I can work through in a comment.
Edited Date: 2014-12-14 11:11 am (UTC)

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Date: 2014-12-14 02:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
(FWIW, that's what I was trying to say in my comment above. Thank you for putting it more succintly than I managed)

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Date: 2014-12-14 11:57 am (UTC)
mathcathy: number ball (Default)
From: [personal profile] mathcathy
Your argument breaks down at the first sentence for me.

I don't believe that anyone is "entitled" to benefits of any kind.

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Date: 2014-12-14 03:37 pm (UTC)
alexseanchai: Blue and purple lightning (Default)
From: [personal profile] alexseanchai
Would it be an accurate description of your position to say that no one is entitled to survive? To live? To live comfortably? If none of those describe your position, what would?

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Date: 2014-12-14 06:17 pm (UTC)
mirrorshard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mirrorshard
In the UK, benefits are paid through National Insurance - ie. people with enough National Insurance contributions get a premium, because that's what they're entitled to from their previous payments. Beyond that, everyone is entitled to this (from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 25):

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Your belief is not supported by facts, or by international law.
Edited Date: 2014-12-14 06:18 pm (UTC)

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Date: 2014-12-14 06:34 pm (UTC)
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
I agree with these ideas - stop trying to make more people poor, stop being exploitative of poorer nations, and stop putting impediments in the way of people to getting benefits. (Large corporations, especially in the States, could use more than a few impediments to accessing the government and the treasury so easily.) Usurers shall be put out of business, or have their allowable interest rates capped.

I think you're right that technology will help reduce inequality, but I also wonder whether there needs to be a mentality shift in the private sector so as to stop having the profit motive be the sole determiner off policy and to start having the point of pride being how many people a corporation had been able to help every year, whether through employment or charitable contributions.

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Date: 2014-12-14 08:52 pm (UTC)
merrythebard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] merrythebard
I also wonder whether there needs to be a mentality shift in the private sector so as to stop having the profit motive be the sole determiner off policy and to start having the point of pride being how many people a corporation had been able to help every year, whether through employment or charitable contributions.

Oh, I like that! If one is looking for ways to make the private sector more of a source for good in the world, that's exactly the kind of cultural change we need.

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Date: 2014-12-14 10:54 pm (UTC)
vatine: Generated with some CL code and a hand-designed blackletter font (Default)
From: [personal profile] vatine
I kind of liked in theory the idea of the Tories' Big Society, sharing support for those in need between charities and volunteer orgs, the private sector, and the state,

You know, one thing I absolutely do not understand (and this is probably a failing in me, than in everyone else in the UK) is why people seem to love charities so much. I mean, yes, they are undeniably doing good work. But, they're not the safety net the British public deserve, they're a safety net that (much more than, say, good legislation and the like) can disappear at the whim of only a few individuals.

Having, once upon a time, found myself sufficiently between jobs that I needed some support, I was actually really happy it was provided by an uncaring, faceless bureaucracy rather than concerned individuals. And I sincerely hope that if that ever happens again, the support will involve non-emotional faceless bureaucrats, rather than caring individuals. Because if they care, they will bur out and then what happens to thiose in need of help?

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Date: 2014-12-15 12:20 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] flippac
As I'm sure you know, I don't trust the state to do the job of looking after those in need - but I don't trust anyone else either, and I do know the state can be held to higher standards as the largest collective that can be held to any at all. So for me that's a pretty good argument in favour of having it do the job: I certainly don't want to be left at the mercy of the Sally Army's homophobia and transphobia - I tend not to look like most people's idea of "deserving poor", even if I might in our circles.

I'm also wary of letting money accumulate to the point where its possessors don't know what to do with it as money - that sort of quantity is more accurately viewed as an immense amount of power, enough to make serious political waves with. I can live with people playing space cadet easily enough, but this sort of thing is how "Rupert Murdoch" gets to be a four-letter word. If nothing else, it tends to lead to unstable systems.

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Date: 2014-12-15 12:24 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
I've been mulling this over, and have a random collection of further thoughts.

Infrastructure investment

I know what you mean about "keep what you earn, except for government infrastructure investment", but I am now wondering what counts as infrastructure investment. Even before austerity, it seems like we could have spent a lot more on schools, on childcare and parental leave, on adult education and training, on public transport, on scientific research. And hopefully got a reasonable rate of return for them, and so they could be seen as increased investment in infrastructure, if less directly than maintaining transport links that people already definitely need.

Most people have an implicit assumption of "about as much infrastructure as we have now", but it might actually be more of a continuuum, of how much infrastructure we choose to nurture. We could rub along with less infrastructure (but life would be shittier for many people in incremental ways). And we could have more infrastructure and potentially help many more people contribute to the economy who were previously prevented from doing so as much as they like -- or maybe not, people might disagree.

Does that count as redistributive?

Hard work, intelligence, worthwhileness, opportunity

I wrote the next section first, but first I wanted to say, I don't by default want to take away money people have earned by hard work. In fact, that mostly applies however they earned the money -- whether they were more intelligent, or more artistic, or more willing to prioritise well-paid jobs over other considerations, or were just in the right place at the right time. It's necessary, not desirable. But that I'm not really calling out hard-working, that's just an example of someone who clearly deserves to have earned what they've earned -- I wouldn't preferentially tax money earned through skill-facility than hard work (Do some people think I should? Or not?)

Hard work and redistributivity

In fact, now I'm reading this post again, I'm musing on hard work more. And wondering, is the different in political opinion, not so much in "given two people, how much should we redistribute from one to the other", but more in, "how much the differences in wealth are due to someone earning more through their own efforts, as compared to someone just getting more advantages"?

Like, I think most people agree that the playing field should be levelled for people who have bad luck -- people who are orhpans, or people who suffer road accidents, etc, etc, it's unfair to just let them try to deal with that themselves, it's better to just say "that can happen to anyone, the government should just insure against those risks by default". And where does the money for that come from? From people who have money, because you can't get it from people who don't have money.

However, maybe some people imagine that most people who have money, have it because they've earned it, whereas other people imagine that being significantly richer than your parents is very much the exception, not the rule. And maybe the former, are reluctant to redistribute, and the latter are eager to? But not because they have different notions of fairness, but because they have different notions of society?

I'm really not sure, I've noodled around in this concept before, but not put it quite like that. Does it make any sense from your PoV?


I have been very impressed in how you expect to live in a community and make that happen. We've talked before how most people we know don't really have much of a community, just a bundle of friends of about the same age.

And I think there's a lot of things where it's nicer, and more efficient being helped by members of your community -- eg. if you get car rides/childcare/advice from people you know, with the expectation of passing it on, that's better than being provided as a service, because it creates relationships, it gives greater benefits from combining spending time with someone with the help needed.

But I'm terrified of the idea that it should be like that, because it suggests that if you don't have a community -- if you have incompatible beliefs to your natural community, or just don't get on well with people, or because you need a lot more help than you can ever give back, or because you move a long way to a different city -- then you're just screwed :( Even if the government is supposed to provide help, it's probably at a much shittier level if it's seen as "for desperate people" not as a basic provision for everyone.

And partly because it's been my life, I see a greater tendency in people moving city, moving where the jobs are, forming friendships with people similar to them, not just people close by to them -- it's an unfortunate londonward-drain, but it's also the only way to get a lot of progress -- lots of industries can't function with all the key employees staying living in the same fishing village their grandparents grew up in, even though I wish they COULD. So I feel like, providing those forms of support nationally, is just more efficient, and the only alternative to returning to neolithic farming... But I'm probably massively exaggerating there :)


Likewise, there are always going to be things that people think should happen, but aren't government-funded, for which charities are often the implementation. But, in shades of Karen (?)'s post, it seems like, for things that are necessary, that's a horrible way of funding them, they should just be provided to everyone automatically, not dependant on good will. Partly, as more efficient, and partly, as it feels horrible to have to ask "please" before having basic human needs met, even if the answer this time is yes.

But partly that's resting on an assumption that central government is more efficient, which I tend to hope, but I know not everyone shares. Many new extremely worthwhile things ARE set up by companies or charities completely independently of the government. But if everyone agrees that infrastructure investment and certain minimum standards of living for everyone are necessary, it seems more likely to be efficient to have a big government pot with some civil servants dividing it up according to where it's needed, than to waste effort sending round begging letters for the all the possible government departments, hoping people will fund them enough.

(I would like to see people able to affect more individual government policies without having to go via electing an MP and the whole parliament, which is a very indirect method. But I want people to rank importances based on some actual knowledge, not be forced to guess how much each money each priority needs to be effective. But that's quite a digression.)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-16 07:00 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ewt
Thank you for this post.

I agree with much of it.

I am not sure that the super-rich actually earn the vast majority of their money. I think they invest their money... which means they lend it out to people who need to borrow some money. And the cost of that means the borrowers (startups or established businesses or whatever; lots of companies have shareholders in some sense) have to cut costs somewhere, which might mean paying their cleaning staff the minimum wage rather than a living wage, or might mean using workfare instead of paying staff, or might mean importing materials from countries where wages and conditions are much, much worse. And so for the super-rich to get and stay rich, someone else loses out. I see this greed as driving a lot of income inequality. So, I strongly agree with your assertion that the usury problem needs to be taken seriously, but I might define "usury" much more broadly. Payday loans are only the very thin end of the wedge. (I also recognise that sometimes it's necessary to essentially hire some cash flow in for a fee -- when buying a house, for example -- so I wouldn't necessarily want a total ban on lending with interest.)

I'm not statist as such, in that I don't think there is anything inherently good about state provision of welfare and infrastructure; but I do think it's just about the best thing that's been tried so far.

I think one of the biggest problems with state provision of infrastructure is that it can lead to a false sense of independence from community, and then people want to opt out if they can. I suspect that people who don't want to pay tax because it's going to people who aren't them partly feel that way because their experience of actually caring for real people is limited to blood relatives and friends; not having a human relationship with the provider of so much infrastructure (because having a human relationship with the state is hard) means it can be sortof invisible and taken for granted. Once people are in that emotional place of "We get by, but it would be great if we didn't have to spend so much money on taxes that go to complete strangers and don't help us at all" it's very easy to pull the "that teacher is after your biscuit" trick on them in order to get them to vote for a party that will actually exacerbate problems. We appear to be caught in this spiral now, at least with regards to unemployment benefits, immigration, health care and education, though I've not (yet) seen much vitriol aimed at pensioners.

Another problem is that different types of support scale differently. It feels to me like states are only really starting to get the hang of this. There's a limit to how much it will be possible to save money on things like personal care for disabled adults, because going to someone's home to help them dress/undress/eat is not really work that can reasonably be reduced; there might be some efficiency savings around transport and scheduling of carers, but that is usually seen as an externality. Whereas tax collection could be made hugely more efficient by basically tearing everything up and starting over (and one of the best arguments I've seen for basic income is that then *all* additional income could/would be taxed -- so no more of this business of an IT contractor forming a limited company of which his wife is the secretary in order to redistribute their income and make use of her tax exemption -- personally I can't imagine wanting to do that amount of paperwork, but it's not uncommon among my husband's work colleagues), because it has become so complex that it isn't that hard to find loopholes. And of course it gets easier if you can pay someone to do the finding.

A final problem with statist poverty prevention is something I usually label "triage is hard"; the same problem applies to non-state interventions. I was taught a definition of triage that meant, in medical terms, dividing people into three groups: 1) "easy wins" -- easily treatable, will get more difficult if you ignore it; 2) "do or die" -- may or may not be easy to treat but if you don't e.g. stop the blood coming out of their carotid artery Right Now then it will become a job for an undertaker, not a medic 3) everything else (broken bones would often fall here, but so might problems much more difficult to treat). The idea is to make sure groups 1) and 2) have enough resources, and deal with 3) as and when you can. But I think triage-like decisions actually have to be made any time there is a finite resource and a varied set of problems. Given a limited amount of money, the current government has chosen to try and red-tape the poor out of existence rather than build housing for people to live in. I think trying to address (negligible) benefit fraud rather than, say, investing that much more in education or abolishing/lowering prescription fees is basically putting category 3) ahead of category 1). This is exacerbated by benefits, education and prescriptions all being different departments anyway, in competition rather than cooperation with one another. The current government is unhelpful but even an imaginary benevolent dictator would find some of this stuff hard, because human populations are quite complex systems.

Others have already discussed the problems with charities.

Feudalism was kindof crappy for the vast majority of people. Capitalism very obviously doesn't meet people's basic needs. I like my imaginary benevolent dictatorship but it isn't going to happen. I'm not sure various forms of collectivism or communism will ever have a high enough uptake to be universally useful. States aren't great, but I'm not sure what else we've got to work with, and I do want to start where we are.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-16 07:01 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ewt
(You may have a much better definition of triage than mine, I wrote out my understanding of it to ensure we wouldn't be talking at cross-purposes.)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-16 11:47 pm (UTC)
hairyears: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hairyears
Sometime, we should sit down with a good bottle of port or brandy, and discuss this at length.

You have some interesting points there, about what welfare sytems are for - but you haven't got the cynicism necessary to consider the unpleasant possibility that our elected leaders now view the population using the welfare state as a productive political punchbag for gaining the approval of the Daily Mail; and worse, they view it as a mechanism for entrenching poverty and exacerbating insecurity.

As for oppressive debt, I got a lesson in that, working late at night and passing through the fifth-floor vending 'mall' for coffee: the TV monitor was showing news of Haiti and the Hurricane (or was it an earthquake), and some senior banker wandered in...

"Oh dear", he said: "The Presidential Palace".

And people *do* tut-tut: he did, and turned to me:

"They're still paying us the interest on loans for that, you know: and they will have carry on"; and he was well aware of what that cost in human terms, and what it meant - and still means - in terms of funds diverted from relief and reconstruction from the natural disaster, live in colour on the news.


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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