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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A Ding Dong between me and Geoff

Geoff is red; I am blue.

OK, as an "Austrian" I naturally assume that you do not agree with welfare benefits, insofar as everyone should look after themselves in much the same way as in many other, mainly third world, countries.
Welfare benefits currently cost Ali and me £4,750 pa from our taxes. Furthermore the NHS costs us £1,750 pa.
However, how do you reconcile these views with being a Christian?
I look fwd to the blog.

As a Christian I believe that we each have a personal responsibility to those less fortunate. Nowhere does Scripture justify the state taking from one group of citizens to give to another. The welfare state infantilises recipients. In the US, more people are poor than when LBJ declared war on poverty. It is instructive to note that Republicans, broadly speaking, the religious party, give far more to charity than Democrats. Charities spend their money more effectively than state institutions, which are to a large extent run for the benefit of state employees. Charitable endowments have helped millions in the direst poverty. High taxes discourage charitable giving.

As for foreign aid, no country has "developed" as the result of aid. All countries benefit from free trade; but we put up tariff barriers against third world farmers and other producers.

Countries with effective free markets beat statist countries hollow when it comes to improving the lot of the poorest. I cannot mug you and give the proceeds to a poor person. I cannot therefore delegate the mugging to the state.

1. I suppose it depends whether you attach any credence to the scriptures. Most people thankfully don't.
2. I assume therefore that you send back your state pension that was mugged from me and Alison and have returned any tax relief you obtained on a personal pension?!
3. I also assume that you would never use the NHS and would always go private.
4. Have you returned your winter fuel allowance?
5. Charities I'm afraid have very little money to give away. As Chair of Age UK Richmond I know this to be true.

This is perhaps the least good-tempered exchange between us. I am sure that cousinly love will prevail.


I am certain that a lavish and expensive welfare state is not in the interests of the “makers” or the “takers”. Firstly, because the makers are unjustly expropriated. Secondly, because every pound taken from a maker means that he cannot spend it with another entrepreneur, thereby helping him to pay his mortgage and feed his children. Thirdly, because money siphoned from makers is not available to them to invest in their own or other businesses, money which might otherwise create wealth and jobs. Fourthly, paying people to be idle and feckless does not do those people any favours. Of course, not all benefit recipients are idle and feckless; some are schizophrenic; some are paralysed; but some are indeed idle and feckless. One child in five in the UK is born into a “family” where nobody works, has ever worked. Young women are encouraged to produce and raise children who scarcely know their fathers. Those children are likely to grow up dependent. Their life chances are likely to be blighted by academic failure, substance abuse and crime. One economist has said, “People respond to incentives; the rest is commentary!”

These are the moral fundamentals which we need to address.

Can we move from our current catastrophic decline at the stroke of a pen? Of course not. But we cannot hope to recover without admitting that we are in decline: morally, politically and economically. Catholic theology has much to say about the relationship between repentance and salvation – I do not demand that Geoff takes Catholic theology as his starting point; but he might grant that an obese person has no chance of escape from obesity without admitting that he is obese. If Mr Fatman decides to do something about his condition, we achieve little by observing that he should have drunk less beer, eaten fewer pies. Let's applaud his resolve.

I am implicitly accused of hypocrisy in the exchange above. By using the NHS, by accepting my state pension (an acknowledged Ponzi scheme), without which I would eventually starve, I am hypocritical for not applauding the whole panoply of the welfare state. No, there is no silver bullet. But reform is always possible. We happen to have, astonishingly, a couple of cabinet ministers who are working towards reform (of benefits and education): Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove.

Conservatism does not promise Heaven on Earth. It says that there are things we can fix, provided that vested interests don’t stop us. Conservatism says open your eyes! Observe what works. Perhaps Conservatism’s most important lesson is: BEWARE OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES. Abandon the infantile “ wouldn't it be nice if...” attitude.

Arthur Brooks is moving up my list of heroes. He is an economist but is also a moral philosopher. He claims that free market economics has won the intellectual argument. In other words, if you want to help the poor, the sick and the disadvantaged, embrace free markets. History endorses you! Logic endorses you! He freely admits that he can lose the argument to his sister-in-law (in an instant) as soon as she makes reference to a little girl who lives with her mother in a car!

I've been there myself a million times. I have a Catholic friend, a thoroughly decent human being, who frequently tells me that I make a good point. This I know very well. But I am defeated, in his head, by failing to convince him that if he cared at all about the poor he would be a free marketeer.

We need to win the moral argument. The moral argument for liberty and free markets is the crux.

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