Last week the House of Lords blocked the government’s plans to reduce welfare spending by £4.4bn (yes, billion) by fiddling with the convoluted Tax Credits scheme. More interesting than the futile debate over government wealth redistribution is the political Left’s complete lack of concern that a bunch of unelected ‘Lords’ and bishops asserted themselves as a higher Authority than democratically elected government; and how the welfare state has become the UK’s political sacred cow.
It isn’t often that the House of Lords stands in the way of the Treasury, but whenever it does an oligarchy usurps the UK’s democracy. Playing the role of occasional oligarchs are former MPs and “successful” business men and women appointed by the Queen on recommendation by the Prime Minister. Oh, and some bishops. The UK’s political stew has a strange inconsistency, but leftists are rather enjoying the taste of it at the moment.
The origins of the House of Lords
The House of Lords came to being in the Middle Ages during a period when everyone believed that their social class was as unchangeable as their eye colour; and acted as such. Your class wasn’t determined by your own actions and those of other men, but by the Authority that controlled everyone’s actions – from King to peasant. This was the age of feudalism. A rigid social system in which your class determined your rights and duties.
Under feudalism the natural duty of Lords was to provide justice and security to the classes below them. So it made perfect sense to create a House of Lords. The British people still haven’t rid themselves of this class system mentality. Which is why the UK still has a Monarch who elects a group of ‘Lords’ and bishops to do their class duty.
The true nature of the democratic State
This House of Lords business is a reminder of the true nature of the UK’s democracy. Only a small percentage of government (4.8% (including local government)) is elected by popular vote. The other 95.2% consists of bureaucrats employed by other bureaucrats. In the UK’s particular case it also consists of a gaggle of the Prime Minister’s pals and some bishops appointed by the Queen to “share the task of making and shaping laws and checking and challenging the work of the government”.
This is the nature of the modern democratic State. If it was one of those children’s ball pits, then voting would be like changing one of the thousands of balls in it and declaring: I’ve got a new ball pit!
The Deep State
The House of Lords is the vestigial tail of the UK’s political system that still wriggles a bit. But the UK’s 440,000 strong army of civil servants is the body of the modern State. Libertarians call this the deep State. Politicians are just the tip of the iceberg that is the State, the rest of it lurks invisible under water. The deep State is the cumulative result of every expansion of government power in the past. It’s a massive pile of regulation, legislation and laws that, unlike an iceberg, only ever grows.
Each bureaucrat’s belief that they make the world a better place by enforcing State edicts is what powers the deep State. The basic aim of this systematic and institutionalised use of government force in every aspect of people’s lives is to improve society, but its only effect is to restrict and inhibit the use of human energy to create wealth. That’s the only outcome government force used to this end can produce.
The Deep State will sink our wealthy society like the iceberg that sunk the Titanic unless there’s a widespread change in public opinion of it. The voluntary economic exchanges of millions of free individuals who are always acting according to their own changing plans is what creates prosperity. Millions of people obeying the plans of a few leads to slow impoverishment, not prosperity.
They say they want democracy, but what they want is to rule
Leftists should oppose the House of Lords on principle. Its existence is contrary to the principles of democracy and egalitarianism, which today are both held as the highest political ideals. By exercising its undemocratic political powers the House of Lords happened to produce an outcome desired by the Left. This presented it with a dilemma. Should it condemn the House of Lords for preventing the UK’s elected government from enacting the will of the people? Or should it turn a political blind eye to it? In other words should leftists act according to their principles or should they act according to expediency?
Maybe someone else has, but I’ve yet to see any criticism of the House of Lords’ intervention on tax credit reform from the political Left or the left-wing media. I doubt I ever will. Do today’s leftists believe that undemocratic rule by a few is a good thing as long as it produces outcomes aligned with left-wing political ideals? It seems so, but this is not surprising.
Let’s face the ugly truth. The political Right and the right-wing media would also have turned a blind eye if the political shoe had been on the other foot. Every political party in the UK today would abandon democracy and welcome rule by a few as long as that few happened to share its political ideals only. From Left to Right, they all want to impose their particularly set of rules and choices upon you because they believe they know what’s best for you in every aspect of your life. They fly different coloured flags but they all mentally salute the same one: The Authority of the State.
The BBC reported that: “[House of Lords] peers voted by a majority of 17 to back Labour calls for the government to provide full financial redress to the millions of tax credit claimants who will be affected when their entitlements are reduced…Peers inflicted a second defeat by backing a delay in the cuts until an assessment of their financial impact is carried out.”
Note how the reporter uses the term “entitlements”. Need is what entitles people to the wealth of others. It is the government’s responsibility to meet those needs. Thus the government must take other people’s wealth by force and distributed it to those in need. If the government fails to meet people’s need or tries to evade doing so then that is a tragedy or an injustice. This is how advocates of the welfare state see it. To them the State is the parent and people in need are its children. Hence the moral outrage and the calls for “full financial redress”. The State mustn’t abandon its children.
The birth and growth of the welfare state
A little over a century ago the foundations were laid for the modern welfare state with the liberal welfare reforms of 1909. Government spending on social security (excluding pensions) has increased by 1,000% since the turn of the 20th century, from £11 million to over £110 million. As a percentage of GDP, welfare spending doubled.
The current government is trying to reduce social security spending but is facing much resistance. If a Labour government comes to power in 2020 then it will likely reverse any reductions achieved by this government.
A public spending increase to this degree is only possible in an economy with strong growth. A government cannot spend (or borrow) more if productive people aren’t producing an increasing amount of wealth for it to expropriate – and then hand out to others.
In the latter half of the 20th century poverty steadily declined and more people than ever before became socially secure due to the prosperity created by capitalism. And yet most governments spent an increasing amount on welfare – as if the opposite were true. Why was this? Here’s a theory.
As the UK economy grew, barring a few dips for wars and recessions, the State had more to spend on social security (and more borrowing power to do so). And so governments spent it. All, every year, every decade. This happened because politicians believe that the welfare of individuals was and is the State’s responsibility. Handing out less money when the government had more to spend would have seemed irresponsible; a dereliction of duty. Like parents who got better paid jobs, but who spent less on raising their children than before. Spending less would also have been to concede that the welfare of individuals was not the State’s responsibility. Like parents who stop buying everything for their children once they get jobs.
The welfare state’s ‘success’ is its failure
A century ago the modern welfare state was born. Three generations later and we have a people who believe that their welfare, that is to say their standard of living, is the government’s responsibility – either entirely or at least partially. The government, indeed! how does an agency, the only function of which is to use force to stop individuals from acting in certain ways, create prosperity? How does doing this create better and cheaper goods and services? It doesn’t, obviously.
The only way to raise your standard of living by just using force is to use it against others in order to take their money. The only reason people feel okay about relying on the welfare state is that they don’t have to do the gun pointing themselves. If they did, virtually everyone would without hesitation reject this method on moral grounds.
According to studies by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 17% of households have one generation that has never worked. Nearly as many lone parents as disabled people have never worked (44% and 47% respectively). In 2013 64% of all families received some kind of government benefit. For 30% of families, benefits made up more than half their income. The percentages are fractionally lower now due to previous changes to child tax credits, but the difference is negligible.
Leftists interpret this as the importance of the welfare state to British family life. They think it’s great that it plays such a ‘big part’. As if the relationship between the welfare state and Britons is akin to the voluntary interdependency of a peaceful relationship between two consenting adults. It’s nothing of the sort. Financial dependency on an agency that uses force to take money from others and which will collapse our economy is not something to celebrate or be proud of.
If the ultimate aim of the welfare state was to render every household in the UK dependent on government handouts then it is more than half way to ‘success’. Complete success for the welfare state must mean complete disaster for the economy. When more people are consuming their ‘entitlements’ than producing wealth, that’s when the economy tips over. For this leftists will blame capitalism, of course.
Use the force, government
The British people should have kept faith in individual economic freedom. If they had kept faith in the power of capitalism to (continue to) end poverty we wouldn’t be in this mess. But they didn’t keep faith in freedom. They put their faith in politics and politicians; they put their faith in the use of government force to end poverty. It didn’t work. It cannot work. Far from eliminating poverty the welfare state has created a permanent poverty-stricken underclass.
Think of it this way. When the only way to fund your scheme is to rob, print money or to borrow it secured against the future earnings of the unborn, then your scheme is neither viable nor virtuous.
The welfare state will expand until it bursts
The rapid expansion of the welfare state was inevitable. A deliberate and gradual reduction of it is now a political impossibility. The current government is only attempting it now so it might be able to spend more again when the time comes to win votes once more. Politicians only think ahead to the next election. Anything beyond is irrelevant.
It seems most unlikely that the welfare state will be dismantled in a controlled fashion that will allow those who have become dependent on it time to adjust. More likely is that it will expand until the State goes bankrupt and then it will disappear in an instant. The benefit payments will one day stop and the next day lots of people will not know where their next meal is coming from or how they will pay the rent.
Responsibility is control
Whatever the government can do for you it can also do to you. When the government has the power to supplement your income it also has the power to reduce it. When it has the power to pay your rent it also has the power to leave you homeless. When it is paying to raise your kids it has the power to leave your children in desperate need.
An increasing amount of people over the coming decades are going to experience this. The true nature of their relationship with the State will reveal itself. The State doesn’t really care about you. You are a means to the ends of those who populate it: the power, acclaim and glory seekers. Those who were unfit to serve their fellow-man in society, so they chose to rule him in government.
Government force steers society off course
Government is just the use of force, it can’t be anything else. Force impedes and inhibits the use of wealth creating human energy. It can’t control or guide human energy to work in ways that produce more wealth. Remember the brilliant Lego Movie? The glue is government. Force fixes people in place. The place that politicians believe is the best. Even though to know this one would need to be omnipotent and omnipresent. If that’s not hubris, I don’t know what is.
Imagine society is a car. Its direction and speed is controlled by the free economic exchanges of people. In other words determined by every individual’s changing needs and wants. Government force is a brake. Politicians are a blind man grabbing at the wheel. The less free people are of government force the more its direction and speed is determined by a few men in power. Men who cannot know what millions of individuals need or want most at any given moment. Men who can only guess or else tell people what they should want. Men who think they can know the unknowable. That’s not freedom. And it’s not the way to prosperity.
The welfare state is one of many ways that today’s gigantic government is steering society off course and slowing it down. The brake pushing blind man of government is in the driving seat. Society is in the back shouting directions, but it’s an incomprehensible din of millions of voices. The driver has no idea where to go or how fast to go there. And he never will.
About two hundred years ago, society was put in the driver’s seat. The needs of individuals were allowed to determine society’s direction and speed. The enormous amount of wealth this period (which was the end of Mercantilism and the arrival of the industrial revolution) created is what our amazing world of plenty is built on. We started so much further up the welfare ladder because trade was (mostly) freed of government control a couple of centuries ago.
In the grand scheme of things two centuries is nothing. Less than a blink of a cosmic eye. That’s how fast a free people can go from poverty to prosperity. The question is how fast can a people who are losing their freedom go from prosperity to poverty? How fast can a people who believe that government force creates prosperity impoverish themselves?
The proper use of force in society
The only proper use of force is to restrict unjust and destructive uses of human energy – i.e. violence and theft. That’s all force is good for. It’s the only good that force can do. All other uses, such as the welfare state, harm prosperity.
This truth needs to become common knowledge before it’s too late, and we leave our children in a society where Authority is plentiful but wealth is scarce.