IF Andrew McKie is correct ("There is no longer a case for universal benefits", The Herald, January 7), there is no case any more for the type of welfare state we have.
As Mr McKie notes, capitalism in the UK has abolished "absolute poverty", as Beveridge's generation knew it. Today, only the physically and mentally disabled would suffer absolute poverty if left to fend for themselves. And no-one advocates that.
Poverty amongst the able-bodied is now largely the result of the decisions made by them or forced upon them, either in chaotic home environments or by perverse state action, as in education and through the benefits system. The result is too often unemployability. But if people are employed (and employment in the UK is higher than it has ever been at nearly 30 million), their poverty is only relative.The overwhelming majority do not want for food, cars, televisions, foreign holidays and housing. As with everyone else, they are paid in line with their worth, as determined by their productivity and by the valuation placed upon their skills and output by those who are willing to pay for their services. That's why a classical musician will never earn as much as a premiership footballer, no matter the bourgeois merits of the former nor the dubious behaviour of many of the latter. And that's the way it should be.
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Relative poverty is the invention of the poverty industry. By definition it will always be with us. It serves two purposes. It keeps its protagonists in employment, and it is the vehicle for the pursuit of equality of outcome. Socialists recognise that nationalisation of production is a dead duck, so there is only one remaining route to utopia – nationalisation and forcible redistribution of income. Relative poverty is allegedly justified by bogus appeals to "fairness'', by a subjective and plausible definition of needs, both of the poor and of the rich, and by the idea that progressive taxation and working-age tax credits and benefits are supremely moral. In fact all of these arguments amount to nothing more than intellectualised theft of private property. To the poverty lobby the job of government is to remove significant disparities in earnings and in the standard of living. But the paradoxical effect of tax credits and progressive taxation is that the only politically acceptable circumstance is to be earning just enough to sustain an independent life – any more is deemed to be for the state to dispose as it sees fit. This does not constitute a free and autonomous society. Rather it creates a mollycoddling and suffocating tyranny which saps initiative, entrepreneurship and the will to be self-reliant. Financially and morally such a society is unaffordable.
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