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lenin on workfare

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Lenin has been excellent lately. Always, but especially lately I think:

The reason Johann Hari can talk like this is because he accepts a moral fairy tale: benefits are some sort of charity in which nice middle class people part with a portion of their income to support the poor. That much is patently obvious from his opening shot. But the welfare state is not a charity. It is a modestly redistributive model to which everyone in work contributes. Most of those receiving benefits will have paid taxes at some point, or will at some point in the future. They do not need to be ordered around and demeaned by forced labour when at some point in their life they fall on hard times. Even those who have never paid taxes and, for the sake of argument, are conscientious layabouts who avoid the labour market (and who can blame them, given that most people cannot expect the relative security, dignity, fame and financial rewards that a newspaper columnist will receive?), don’t need to be penalised in this way. First of all, even if it could work, it would require a nightmare scenario to do so. To really get to grips with the supposed recalcitrant spliff-heads and daytime-telly addicts (my stock of cliche is rapidly running out), you would have to construct a state bureaucracy so intrusive, and so arrogant and overbearing, that it would inevitably bring large swathes of even the ‘deserving poor’ under its surveillance and constant harrassment. People who have spent their lives contributing to the society would find themselves battered with ‘work-oriented interviews’, phone calls, demands for information, allocations for miserable ‘community service’ work. Constant testing and grading, and in the case of the incapacitated, inspection by GPs pressured with reward-focused targets, would be the motif if such a pointless exercise. Even if you could single out the tiny minority of putative couch potatoes, which of course you cannot, it would save the taxpayer next to nothing and produce no overall benefit. The politicians who are devising these schemes have every reason to know all this. They are not targeting the ‘Andys’ of this world, even if Andy is unfortunate enough to exist and to have a priggish moralist like Hari as a friend. The intention is to, as fully as possible, role back the welfare state – not to replace it with a version that people like Johann Hari can defend in good conscience, but to reduce it to a shell. That requires, as with the attack on the US social security system (scheduled to resume under Obama, I bet you), the contrivance of ‘crises’. Suddenly, we lack the money for all this luxury, suddenly there is a financial gap, a shortfall, and there are all these millions of people using the system when they should be in paid work…

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 21, 2008 at 10:03 am

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