How About A Meanness Test?

The IMF has some helpful suggestions about how we might meet our loan repayments. To sum up: Make the poor poorer. Social welfare rates that are “too high” are a disincentive to work, apparently.

Ask yourself though, what level of unemployment assistance would be low enough for the IMF? Just one euro a day would be sufficient inducement to stay at home, if the job market was also only offering one euro.

And right now the job market is offering most people precisely no euro at all, because there are no jobs for them. To those, even a zero level of dole payment would still act as a disincentive.

To follow the IMF’s logic to its conclusion therefore, we need to fine people for not working.

It is orthodox nonsense of course. All lowering welfare can do is make more people desperate for work, so increasing the labour supply. It doesn’t magically create jobs. If viable employment just appeared because people wanted it badly enough we wouldn’t have a lot of famines in the world, would we? The only thing lower welfare can magically create is poverty, and poverty in turn increases despair, dissent, conflict and crime.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, IMF, but we have already lowered the social welfare rates. Several times. Did it lead to an increase in jobs? No. Funnily enough, the number of unemployed actually rose.

Oddly, the proposal which seemed to get all the media attention is the idea that means-testing might be introduced for child benefit. I think I see why. We have come to expect that the poor will routinely be taken outside and kicked bloody at every budget. Means-testing child benefit though, that could hit middle class people. Controversial!

(Though I noticed that Radio 1 immediately hosted an argument about whether we need child benefit at all. “Why should I pay to bring up someone else’s children?” etc. RTÉ once again failing to distinguish between socially useful public debate and the entertainment value of terrible people shouting at each other. There is really not that big a step between Liveline and the Jeremy Kyle Show.)

Well, should families who don’t actually need child benefit still get it? It seems illogical on the face of it, but there are some good, idealistic reasons behind the payment. One is that a mother, especially of young children, usually doesn’t have much income she has real control over – and that can be true in rich homes as well as poor. This makes her hugely vulnerable, her children effectively hostage to whoever holds the purse strings. The children’s allowance makes here less dependent on her husband or other family members, less vulnerable to bullying and manipulation. It seems like a good thing to me.

Now we may ask is it any business of society to intervene in that way. And in these days of ascendant right-wing selfishness, I am sure there will be plenty willing to debate it. But you know what? That’s our debate. I don’t let the bank tell me what Christmas presents to buy or what food to eat, even if I’m buying them with money they lent me. They can dictate the interest rate and the repayment schedule, but not my values.

IMF, if you want a role in formulating social policy then stand for bloody election. Otherwise, butt out.

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One thought on “How About A Meanness Test?

  1. Related to my last comment on a previous post, the IMF has long been involved in social policy. What people forget is that the higher the unemployment rate the better it is for businesses, because it allows them to drive down labor rates and thus increase profits. That’s, of course, the goal of the IMF is to increase profits for businesses, again as I pointed out in the previous comment the IMF is controlled by disciples of the founders of supply-side economics so their policies are all designed to increase wealth at the top, on the (proven over decades of implementation to be BS) theory that it would trickle-down.

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