More about me slowly coming to (always temporary) conclusions in :

, social

For a long time, I failed to define a clear line between fair, necessary, humane benefits on the one hand, and greedy, opportunistic, unjustified rent-seeking on the other.

More recently I settled on a heuristic that I find just, and that is fairly simple to apply:

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First of all, I establish

  • a universal, absolute threshold for human well-being (enough food, reasonable shelter, basic medical treatment, physical safety), and
  • the moral obligation of society as a whole to help those who find themselves below that threshold, for whatever reason,
  • for as many people as necessary, for as long as necessary, and regardless of the cost in taxes.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a long-time beneficiary of social benefits already, a former billionaire who recklessly burned all their cash, a chronic tax-evader, or an unrepentant serial killer: if you are starving, have no roof, or suffer from illness or violence — and you do not have the resources to remedy your situation — and you have not unequivocally rejected the assistance of society — then it is not only moral but mandatory that our taxes be directed towards lifting you out of that dire state and back into human dignity.

That’s the unconditioned baseline for welfare benefits.

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What about needs up and beyond that basic threshold? To give a few examples: predictable, regular cash flows from retirement until death (public pensions); subsidies for IVF or child care; public study grants; tokens for public transport; subsidised campsites or holidays; everything having to do with “culture” or sports (coupons for book shops, concerts, museums, sport centres, sport clubs).

For those, I draw a line between situations of necessity that are caused by events mostly outside the control of the person, and those for which the person is much to “blame”. I am all for taxes to fund the former, and zero for the latter.

So: individual responsibility, and the predictability of the (bad) outcome, are my deciding criteria.

Here go a few examples:

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A single parent who finds themselves struggling to raise their offspring while at the same time enjoying themselves the small luxuries of modern life (tourism, Netflix, eating out, a new car, a gym membership). If they are a single parent because their spouse died or left, leaving them with precarious income, they should get some benefits to help them make ends meet. If, on the other hand, they decided to raise kids without a partner in the first place, they are not morally entitled to anyone else’s money.

A new retiree who suddenly can’t afford more than the basics and has to lead a monastic life until death. If that person had miserable jobs all their life and still managed to be frugal and save a bit for retirement, society owes them a chunk now, since their misfortune was not their fault and they made responsible use of the bad cards they were dealt. If, on the other hand, that person used to be well-off and had the resources to invest on their own retirement plan, but was reckless enough to live hand to mouth instead, then a monastic life is all they get, in all fairness (no assistance from the rest of society).

Someone who is unemployed. If they are unemployed because they are handicapped, belong to a marginalised group, suffered an important workplace accident, have a very low IQ, etc, then society should fund a reasonable life for them (ie, above the minimum threshold). If, on the other hand, that person is lazy or unconscientious, or too picky when offered a job, then food, clothing and shelter is all they are entitled to get from the rest of society.

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I realise many cases won’t be easy to adjudicate. But that’s a problem with our current welfare laws, too.

It shouldn’t be too difficult for the State to collate all the relevant data they hold for each person and feed it to an algorithm which in many cases would produce a fairly confident result. Think work history, tax returns, residency, health indicators, race, education, reports from social workers, property owned, investments, criminal record, etc. A good chunk of the population are clearly “privileged” or “dispossessed” by looking at these metrics.

Expressed this way, it sounds eerie and inhumane. I’m just describing the logic of it here. Of course, there still would be judges, social workers, recourse, and exceptions involved — just as in the current system. But I feel this general guidance would deliver as well if not better than the current system, while decreasing rent-seeking and public expenditure (taxes).


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Addendum (lest I should be accused of utopian over-simplification):

Yes, chance plays a huge role in life outcomes. Yes, the past, which we can’t control (heritage, inheritance, the womb, childhood) is decisive, too. Yes, even conscious life decisions are strongly constrained by circumstances and by the information available at the time.

Yes, free will might be but an illusion.

I just want to stress that all the above holds true in our current welfare systems, too.

@tripu you are just restating the obvious except the control freaky starts to show with the “I can’t decide, so let our new overlord youtube algorithm do it”.

oh no, i’m not inhumane I still want social workers
sure 1 social worker per 100 000 of potential beneficiaries, and you don’t get an audience unless the proverbial algorithm deems you worthy. It serves no purpose other than cutting costs by treating people as commodity. And that’s your only take in these entire thread.

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