Friday, December 9, 2011

The Morality of Welfare

This blog incorporates the comments I posted on Karl du Fresne's blog this week. Karl posted about a documentary that aired on TV3 during the last week of the New Zealand general election campaign (and of course TV3's timing was not coincidental - it was just part of their on-going pro-Labour, pro-Greens editorial campaign). I didn't see the documentary but in Karl's view it was "very one-sided", presenting the "message...that the welfare state has failed our poor."

This sort of overtly left-wing polemic always tries to cast the rest of us (i.e. those other than the 'deserving poor') as uncaring and immoral. How could we in good conscience possibly let one child anywhere go hungry? It never asks the same question of the parents and extended families of such children, assuming that they must be victims of circumstances like their children.

Those who oppose further extension to the already ubiquitous welfare state, and who oppose further taxation increases to pay for it, are often put on the back foot by such arguments. They seldom challenge the de facto position that there is no moral argument that could possibly be put forward to justify less state intervention in the welfare of poor children.

Well, I am not afraid of entering the moral debate on the side of the oppressed taxpayer. My comments on Karl's blog follow.

I guess you could call the welfare state 'compulsory altruism', if that is not too much of an oxymoron. The system of taxation and redistribution through welfare is enforced by the state's exclusive legal mandate to use violence (and if you don't believe this, then let's make taxation voluntary tomorrow and see what happens).

So, the moral argument in regards to welfare is whether it is right for the state to threaten and use violence against some people to force them to support others (whether such people are deserving or not may change the weight of the argument but not the principle).

I believe that a rational, moral society is one where families and communities look after those less fortunate than themselves. I also believe that a rational, moral society is one where no man or woman is forced to work for the benefit of another (or another's children).

I don't believe these two things are mutually exclusive, but so long as the taxation and welfare system is based on the threat of violence, it will lack any real moral mandate in my view, no matter how many heart-rending documentaries appear on TV.

Forcing people to work for someone else's benefit is slavery. The needs of others do not justify this slavery no matter how compelling that need. The only choice we have is to submit to the slavery or join the ranks of those benefiting from the corrupt welfare system. The system may make most New Zealanders feel like they are part of a 'caring society' but we should not pretend it is anything other than extortion based on the threat of violence. It is certainly not moral.

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