Monday, September 26, 2005

When Susan Eagle smiles, you can be sure the rest of us are getting poorer

In light of a few recent criticisms of the welfare state, including Mapmaster's comments on Susan Eagle and the public housing warriors, Raskolnikov's post on reductionism and generalization and Darcey's thoughts on the profitability of doing nothing, it seemed like a good opportunity to here include some reflections by physician and psychiatrist Dr. Theodore Dalrymple. In a quest to understand the evil that exists among men, Dr. Dalrymple worked with some of the most sorid members of society and visited some of the world's worst tyrannies.

Quotulatiousness links to an interview by Theodore Dalrymple published in FrontPage

I have noticed the disappearance of the word 'unhappy' from common usage, and its replacement by the word 'depressed.' While unhappiness is a state of mind that is clearly the result of the circumstances of one's life, whether self-inflicted or inflicted by circumstances beyond one's control, or a mixture of both, depression is an illness that is the doctor's responsibility to cure. This is so, however one happens to be leading one's life. And the doctor, enjoined to pass no judgement that could be interpreted as moral on his patients, has no option but to play along with this deception. The result is the gross over-prescription of medication, without any reduction in unhappiness.
Also be sure to read "The Frivolity of Evil" by Dr. Dalrymple from 2004:
Not that the government is blameless in the matter—far from it. Intellectuals propounded the idea that man should be freed from the shackles of social convention and self-control, and the government, without any demand from below, enacted laws that promoted unrestrained behavior and created a welfare system that protected people from some of its economic consequences. When the barriers to evil are brought down, it flourishes; and never again will I be tempted to believe in the fundamental goodness of man, or that evil is something exceptional or alien to human nature.

[..] A necessary, though not sufficient, condition is the welfare state, which makes it possible, and sometimes advantageous, to behave like this. Just as the IMF is the bank of last resort, encouraging commercial banks to make unwise loans to countries that they know the IMF will bail out, so the state is the parent of last resort—or, more often than not, of first resort. The state, guided by the apparently generous and humane philosophy that no child, whatever its origins, should suffer deprivation, gives assistance to any child, or rather the mother of any child, once it has come into being. In matters of public housing, it is actually advantageous for a mother to put herself at a disadvantage, to be a single mother, without support from the fathers of the children and dependent on the state for income. She is then a priority; she won't pay local taxes, rent, or utility bills.

As for the men, the state absolves them of all responsibility for their children. The state is now father to the child. The biological father is therefore free to use whatever income he has as pocket money, for entertainment and little treats. He is thereby reduced to the status of a child, though a spoiled child with the physical capabilities of a man: petulant, demanding, querulous, self-centered, and violent if he doesn't get his own way. The violence escalates and becomes a habit. A spoiled brat becomes an evil tyrant.

But if the welfare state is a necessary condition for the spread of evil, it is not sufficient. After all, the British welfare state is neither the most extensive nor the most generous in the world, and yet our rates of social pathology—public drunkenness, drug-taking, teenage pregnancy, venereal disease, hooliganism, criminality—are the highest in the world. Something more was necessary to produce this result.

Here we enter the realm of culture and ideas. For it is necessary not only to believe that it is economically feasible to behave in the irresponsible and egotistical fashion that I have described, but also to believe that it is morally permissible to do so. And this idea has been peddled by the intellectual elite in Britain for many years, more assiduously than anywhere else, to the extent that it is now taken for granted. There has been a long march not only through the institutions but through the minds of the young. When young people want to praise themselves, they describe themselves as "nonjudgmental." For them, the highest form of morality is amorality.

[..] Ultimately, the moral cowardice of the intellectual and political elites is responsible for the continuing social disaster that has overtaken Britain, a disaster whose full social and economic consequences have yet to be seen. A sharp economic downturn would expose how far the policies of successive governments, all in the direction of libertinism, have atomized British society, so that all social solidarity within families and communities, so protective in times of hardship, has been destroyed. The elites cannot even acknowledge what has happened, however obvious it is, for to do so would be to admit their past responsibility for it, and that would make them feel bad. Better that millions should live in wretchedness and squalor than that they should feel bad about themselves—another aspect of the frivolity of evil. Moreover, if members of the elite acknowledged the social disaster brought about by their ideological libertinism, they might feel called upon to place restraints upon their own behavior, for you cannot long demand of others what you balk at doing yourself.
Like their British counterparts, the Canadian lambs continue to flock to the ruling elite, who require fresh sacrifices to keep the system going. A typical example of the consequences of a paternal welfare state, published in The Red Star, concerns an upcoming event, called Walk, Wheel and Ride for Dignity, which promises to be "the largest anti-poverty demonstration in years." With all due respect to the central organizer of the event, Melissa Webster, also disabled, these protests are in actual fact demands for food and shelter at the expense of those who rightfully owe them nothing. I am sorry for the disabled and the poor who have difficulties making ends meet, but there is all the difference in the world between voluntary charity and forced assistance. I don't want to end up joining the ranks of the poor lining up for a public cubicle because the government insists that everyone has a right to food and shelter, but I might be forced into that breadline soon enough as I am left with less and less disposal income each year as the number of public housing complexes increase. These days it is often more profitable to do nothing at all than work. Why expend the effort when your more fortunate neighbours will be helping out?

Although Webster, herself paralyzed, has made an effort to be self-sufficient, she claims the issue is not about disabilities but instead about surviving on social assistance. It's not about earning what you receive, but 'perceived need' and government handouts:
She intends to finish her degree, get a job and support herself. But first, she wants to make sure that every other Ontarian living on welfare — with or without a disability — is treated with dignity. That means having a decent place to live, an income above the poverty line and a voice that counts.

[..] Webster knows there are numerous walks, runs and benefits for medical research in September and October. But this is different, she maintains. Much as she'd like a cure for quadriplegia, it's not her injured spinal cord that robs her of her dignity. It's trying to survive on social assistance.

"People living in poverty have always been marginalized. We're not seen or recognized as full, contributing citizens."

The marchers are calling for four reforms:

Social assistance rates that provide an adequate standard of living. Currently, an individual on Ontario Works (welfare for those without disabilities) receives $536 a month. An individual on Ontario Disability Support gets $959 a month.

Statistics Canada's low-income cutoff is $19,261 a year — or $1,605 a month — in a large urban centre.

A minimum wage of $10 per hour, which would lift a worker over the poverty line. Ontario's minimum wage is $7.45 per hour. It is scheduled to go up to $7.75 next February and $8 in February of 2007.

An end to the clawback of the National Child Benefit Supplement. The province reduces its welfare payments to parents on social assistance by approximately the same amount they receive from Ottawa in child support, leaving them no further ahead.

An increase in the supply of safe, affordable housing. Today, one out of every five tenant households in Ontario pays more than 50 per cent of its income in rent.
Will my employer be forced to raise my wage too so I can help pay for all these demands? I say we all demand a raise until we are all reduced to poverty.


Anonymous said...

This Mr. Dalrymple is a real whippersnapper. I'm pleased to see that at least someone in Deare Olde Englande is paying attention. I got sick of reading because in the end it seemed that they are nothing but flat-tax cranks - they think that libertarianism is somehow about governing "smarter" instead of governing less. Their selling point for the flat tax in one of their columns was, "it'll increase government revenues" !!! I think the smell of power wafting out of Westminster has drawn them a little too close to the moral cesspool for their own safety.

Pietr said...

I agreed with the first paragraph of Dalrymple,the 'medication' situation, I couldn't agree more, but all this rubbish about 'single mothers' is obsolete conservative orthodoxy from the eighties, and frankly seeing it again is tiresome and irritating;the 'social cohesion' freaks are generally a bunch of closet racialists anyway, which is so not sensible it is difficult to believe that people are actually practising it.
Face it-a 'society' is a collection of individuals, not 'units'.

Lisa said...

Greetings Sorehead:

I am not sure that I am understanding your comment exactly as you intended it, but I am going to attempt to respond anyways. Correct me as you see fit.

I think what you are suggesting is that Dalrymple is a collectivist of some sort, meaning he disregards individuals in favour of units and so his approach is based on observations of the herd rather than of individuals?

Seems to me there is a difference between criticizing single mothers and acknowledging there are a lot of single mothers out there who are dependent on abusive men and corrupt regimes. Dalrymple worked with such people and tried to help them to help themselves.

I've read very very little by Dalrymple but it seems to me that he believes there is a common cause behind both the 'medication' situation and the increase in broken families and single mothers. He says the welfare state is very much responsible for the prevalence of helplessness and unhappiness in societies. Such overly programmed societies enable and encourage people to evade the economic consequences of their behaviour, so you can be sure there will be a line up for free handouts. Not only can they get away with it, in many cases it is more profitable to do nothing than to work. He is also pointing out the cultural effect - eventually people begin to demand what was once bestowed charitably, for it is now understood as a 'right'. For example, health care and to a lesser degree, public housing and food.

I hope we don't live to see the day when all housing is public and all grocery stores and farms state owned.