Tuesday, 16 December 2014


I've read a lot lately about the relative merits of socialism vs. charity, and some people have a radically different idea, a guaranteed income for all citizens. Switzerland has actually implemented it. Instead of a confusing and ridiculous system of endless types of welfare, one cheque. Covers basic needs and you are at liberty to earn as much as you wish in addition to that.

Those good at figures have calculated that it is actually cheaper to do this too. For example, in a large country like the US it would save billions. So it would make an awful lot of sense. But it will never happen in the US, because far too many people would object to the idea regardless of the savings. Whether it could happen in Canada or not, I really don't know.

However money is handed to those in need, one thing is certain. As it stands right now, in pretty much every country, with very few exceptions, the systems are not working. We're not even doing better than before. In many western countries in fact, the needy are worse off than they were 20 years ago.

Socialism, aka sharing, is feared so it's only ever done in a half-baked way. Add to that government corruption, complexity, inefficiency, and lack of funding in the first place.......the systems just don't work as well as they could.

If there is a need for charity, or food banks, or whatever, then your system isn't working.

Of course there will always be those why say "Why should the system revolve around the needy?". Matter of opinion of course, but I think that is how you measure a system, that it works for everyone.

There have been all sorts of ideas over the years as to how to help those whose income is insufficient. In each method, regardless of source, three things happen.

1. Somebody decides how much is needed. It's often wrong.
2. Somebody decides who gets it. This is often flawed too.
3. Somebody decides how it should be given. This is where the options come in. And where the arguments start.

I like simple. Simple is cheaper, for a start. Less administration - less cost.

I worked in an Unemployment Benefit office in the early 80s in England. It was a time of high unemployment, and we were busy. I saw how the system worked, I saw its effects, and I didn't like what I saw. But if anything, the system is less fair today. Even if you don't keep up on UK news you may have heard of the debacle in recent years where chronically sick or disabled people were left penniless due to an outside company being called in to assess their ability to work. These assessments were not made by doctors, I hasten to add. They were a series of questions, some of which were misleading - bordering on "trick". Great suffering, and not a few suicides ensued before this ridiculous experiment was changed to a different one. And it's not over.

Meanwhile the British right-wing media concentrated on blaming fraudulent claimants for everything. A report came out showing that benefit fraud by ordinary people was a drop in the ocean compared to tax avoidance by large companies, but that wasn't front page news. Far more fun to run stories about "scroungers".

You've read plenty of these wherever you live. We all know there are scroungers. They annoy me too. They are bad for many reasons, not least that they give geniune claimants a bad name, because they all get tarred with the same brush. But if you care about data, about numbers, about where the money goes, these people are a minority and much of the time it costs more to catch them than the amount they steal. As revolting as they are, they are really not a big deal.

The real thieves are the big corporations who wriggle out of taxes by employing creative accountants, and that's the polite version, while everyone else foots the bill.

I have mixed feelings about taxes. In principle they are the obvious, best solution. Everyone pays into the pot, and all expenses come out of it. It couldn't be simpler. It appeals to my inner Marxist.

From Each According to Their Abilities, to Each According to Their Needs

If you can offer any objection to that. I'm all ears.

Unfortunately, as we all know, it doesn't work. This social contract has become instead "From each, whatever their accountants can't hang on to, to each according to the least we can get away with". But the idea is sound, so the first step in improving the system is an overhaul of taxation.

The idea of the guanteed income could then be a sort of negative taxation. For example you could have a structure whereby the first $15,000 (or whatever is deemed the poverty line in a given location) of an individual's income is not taxed, and anyone who earns less than $15,000 per year would receive money instead of paying it out. Instead of endless agencies all doling out cash, it would be one payment, from one source.

But first those who can afford to pay taxes would have to do so.

So the question at this point tends to be "I worked hard, why should I share?" That's not wholly an economic question, that involves ethics and compassion. You can't legislate those. But there is an economic side to it. So, I tend to offer that answer, just in case I'm talking to a selfish bastard. I offer the fact that if fellow citizens are not struggling to make ends meet, the society we live in is better for everyone.

Less poverty = less crime.

It's easily demonstrated. And possibly easier to get through to them than the idea that one day they may too be in need and benefit from the system, an idea they deny or dismiss.

Let's go back to that other method of distribution of "spare" resources. Charity. I talked the other day about this, and my opinion of how some charities function is no secret. Some of them waste the majority of the money donated to them, or worse. Some just drive you crazy with their tactics. But most importantly their method of sharing is no fairer, and often less so, than governmental aid.

Firstly, those who say "I prefer to give to charity" generally do so, in order to pick and choose who they donate to. In fairness we all do this. There is a limit as to how much any of us can give, so we tend to support something close to our hearts. What we find, however, with many who consider charity to be the preferable option is that either they like it simply because of the tax write-offs available, or it allows them to indulge in their prejudices. They'd never donate to an AIDS charity for example, because they are anti-gay.

In addition, sometimes they like to make a big show of donating. They can't just quietly send a cheque, they have a gala dinner where rich people in designer clothes eat luxury food to raise money for the poor, with the press invited, obviously. Makes so much sense. But I'll move along.

Bottom line is that we could do better, as individuals, and as a society.Those who don't want to share are a minimum, so we can insist. We can change things, if we want to. And we have to think outside the box a bit. Admittedly patchwork quilts keep you just as warm as those made out of one sheet of fabric, but I think we could cover more beds with the latter.

1 comment:

  1. And when it comes to corporations paying taxes instead of hiding profits in off-shore accounts, consider this: If all of the "surplus funds" were returned as taxes all of those who are struggling or doing without would have less of an identified scapegoat. The PR-image alone would be worth it. ;)

    Great points and presentation, as always, Melanie--I'm with you~ Blessings! :)