Benefit policy: Give me a value judgment
Posted August 14, 2008on:
I have avoided discussing Nationals benefit policy so far. I just haven’t seen any need given that I like to stay relatively apolitical – and also given that it does not imply much of a change from the status quo (do you guys know how difficult it is to renew your benefit anyway nowadays!).
For anyone that does want to see the partisan discussion we have:
However, I’m low on things to write about, so when Kiwiblog linked to this article in The Press, I thought I would form some value based argument on the first line of the article (it is not necessarily my beliefs – just an argument against the first line) – then we can discuss what value judgments I’m making etc in the comments.
So the first line is.
It is widely accepted now that long-term dependency on welfare benefits should be avoided where possible
Really? Now I’m sure that a lot of people out their agree, but I’m not sure I would look at the issue and say that.
Why? As a mainstream economist I believe in a natural rate of unemployment – which implies that we don’t necessarily have full employment, even in the long run. If we have policies that set some long-term rate of unemployment, and if it is people with a low endowment of other resources who are unemployed, then I don’t have a problem with people being given the income to live through welfare payments.
If a household is unlucky enough to be in this situation, I’m happy to be in a society where we look after them.
You may counter by saying the quote says “where possible”. I would ask – how the hell do you define that. It sounds like a term that is used to shove all inconvenient circumstances under the carpet, so that the article can focus on saying why people should not be on the benefit for very long. The terminology is far to anti people on welfare – there is an expectation that people SHOULD be able to live without welfare payments.
Now back in the day, these people would die – is that the sort of society we want now? If not, then we have to accept that there will be some long-term unemployed, and paying for their survival is part of the cost of a civilised society!
I don’t think thats the issue – there are other costs from being unemployed you know!
Yes, definitely, there are other substantial costs to being unemployed, for the unemployed person. But an attitude that attacks people that finds themselves in this situation merely creates more costs in society – so how can it be welfare enhancing?
Schemes that try to match people to jobs, upskill unemployed people, and a society that pushes people towards the goal of work (without the implication that people without jobs are inferior) is the best way to improve social outcomes.
Stating that “long-term dependence” should be avoided places the burden for this on the individual – if the individual is unable to get work, we make them feel guilty – this does not sound like a social happiness enhancing way to treat policy.
But what about lazy people!
If we don’t want people who could work not working when the opportunity is there – then make their benefit dependent on it (like we do now).
Furthermore, we have to ask – if a person is sufficiently “lazy” such that they will jump through hoops to avoid work, the cost of working must be very high for them. As a result, the net impact on social happiness from paying them not to work may be positive!
Above I have argued why the idea that “long-term welfare dependency should be avoided” is not an appropriate way to view social happiness or policy.
As I have already said, this is not necessarily my point of view at all, so try to avoid personally attacking me 😉 I’ve just tried to make a slightly coherent argument to reach a certain point of view.
Now, is anyone keen to raise a different point of view, or argue any of the specific assumptions. Remember, the focus is this part of the quote:
long-term dependency on welfare benefits should be avoided where possible