Wednesday, October 20, 2010

British Tax Dollars At Work

The real problem of generous welfare is not that society can't afford it. America and Britain are rich places, rich enough to afford quite a lot of stupidity. No, the real problem is what generous welfare does to the culture and mindset of those who receive it.

To see an example of everything wrong with welfare gone wild, check out this story from Britain.

Wanting for nothing: Miss Marshall has an entire wardrobe just for her jeans

Kelly Marshall saved her benefit money to help pay for breast enhancement.

... she plans to save more of hers for liposuction and a tummy tuck. Miss Marshall, who has never worked, rakes in almost £29,000 a year from benefits - and last year spent £4,500 to go from a 34A to a 34DD.

I have no problem with Kelly Marshall spending her money however she sees fit. Milton Friedman would (and did) agree. Thrift and savings are also not to be derided. If she simply spent her money on booze, drugs and fast food (like so many in Britain's welfare slums), the story would be so common as to be entirely unremarkable.

But surely, this suggests that the government is giving her way more money than needed to avert poverty. The Daily Mail tries to gloss over this angle, with the opening line:
Most families who are due to lose their child benefit are worrying about how they'll make ends meet without it.
And yet, this wretched woman is apparently living the life of Riley on the same payments. Hmm, incongruous isn't it?

But no, let us delve deeper into the cultural morass:
For Kelly Marshall, who has five children by four different fathers,
Mia, 11, Nio, ten, Lenni, three, Kallie, 11 and Lewis, 16
Naming your child with a misspelled version of Keanu Reaves in The Matrix (the dates line up too) - double classy!

Okay, maybe I'm being too harsh. It's possible she's just misunderstood, and has had some bad luck in her life?

To see the real disgrace, just listen to the sense of shameless entitlement this harridan has:
'I know most people will think it is wrong I am spending taxpayers' money on my looks. But I deserve it because I am a good mum.'


'I always take the kids abroad,' she said. 'We have been to Tenerife and Cyprus, and this year we have been to Magaluf twice. 'Each holiday costs about £2,000, but it's good to get away, and the kids and I deserve it.'

Deserve. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
'But I don't think me or my children should miss out on nice things just because I have never worked.'
No, of course not. Free Government money for everyone! It just falls from the sky!

To her credit, Kelly does seem to evince a dim awareness of where all this largess is coming from, even if she's a little weak on the precise accounting:

'My mum worked all her life and she paid taxes so I feel I am getting what I deserve,'

Okay, so she does realise that taxpayers are picking up the tab somehow. I am going to go out on a crazy limb here, and predict that her mum didn't pay nearly enough taxes to cover the value of what her daughter will receive from the government (even assuming that her Mum was relieved of any obligation to contribute towards anything else the government does).

Note too the flimsy moral excuses she produces for this outrageous behaviour. Her mum once worked, so she 'deserves' a free ride forever. This fascinating moral position of intergenerational virtue is not expounded at length, which is a great shame. Nobody is the villain in their own narrative. That is why the word 'deserve' appears so frequently - in her moral universe, somehow she's doing the right thing shamelessly mooching.

But eventually, we get to the heart of the matter:
'I don't care that it is at the taxpayers' cost,' she told Closer magazine. ...
No, no she doesn't. In fact, she wants to rub this fact in your face, parading for a photo holding a wine glass, and showing off her taxpayer-funded jeans collection.

That is the real tragedy of long term welfare. Out of the high and worthy desire to help those who are down on their luck, come such poisonous consequences. It's not that people work less. It's not that people lose motivation and purpose in their life, as all connection between effort and outcome is severed. It's not that people get lazy and shiftless.

No, the tragedy is the sense of sheer ungratefulness that comes from receiving large payments, year in year out, no questions asked. Grateful receipt of charity makes the donor feel happy, even if the original need for charity wasn't great. Neutral receipt, people can stomach that too. But habitually resentful receipt of charity is a very ugly aspect of human nature to witness.

Unfortunately, I suspect that is what long term welfare commonly produces.

George Orwell, a man with great sympathy for the plight of the unfortunate, said as much in 'Down and Out in Paris and London:
"A man receiving charity practically always hates his benefactor--
it is a fixed characteristic of human nature;
and, when he has fifty or a hundred others to back him, he will show it."

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