Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ending the Causes of Poverty or Perpetuating it?

Sam Bowman posts on “The Pin Factory Blog” (Adam Smith Institute) HERE:
Don't hate the players, hate the game”, is about the tricky questions of how we could get from current welfare policies to deal with poverty, which I commented on yesterday. 
Interestingly, in the comments section, “Nullius in Verba” asks:
Is it lack of skills, or attitude, or bad behaviour, or attendant costs (like uniforms or getting in to work), or lack of experience, or the employer's overhead costs, or legal barriers, or regulation, or worker's rights, or unions, are a lot of them drug addicts, is it about debt, or living beyond their means, is the problem getting childcare cover, or what? What's the problem? Why are some people persistently poor?
Only when you understand the problem can you hope to find a solution. Money spent fixing it, and getting people back into productive work, is money well spent. Money spent perpetuating the problem, keeping them in poverty indefinitely without ever solving it, is both a waste of taxpayer's money and a wicked waste of human lives.”
I found this aspect of the discussion interesting because it moves the discussion of the ‘game’ from arguing by sloganising simple remedies that abound with distribution issues without considering the actualities of where a society settles as a cumulative result of past policies that emerged from an imperfect ‘bread and circuses’ legislative process since Beveridge to where it might be preferable to move towards. But cause it doesn’t answer the questions posed by “Nullius in Verba”. 
[When translated by “Maria” (via Google): Nullius in Verbais the Latin motto of the Royal Society of London, the UK’s national academy of science, mean[ing] literaly :
"On the words of no one", as NULLIUS (genitive case) corresponds to 'of no one’ and IN VERBA to “on the words”. In fact the motto of the Royal society points out that we must believe in the words of nobody, but we have to use science to establish “the truth of scientific matters through experiment rather than through citation of authority”.]
Now that that is clear, I think “Nullius in Verba” opens the door to the kind of discussions that add more to the debate on dealing with poverty than the sloganising from Left and Right, and against which moderate Libertarians ought to have much more to offer.   We should note that Adam Smith was elected (FRS) to the Royal Society (London) and a founder member (FRSE) of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Of course, towards which end we prefer scientific experiment to apply is conditioned by the means to which we Libertarians suggest we aim the necessary social experiments.  The current ends of the very expensive billions spent on welfare-state policies are not clear; they are more palliative by well-meaning attempts to try to make poverty more bearable, not aiming in some way to remove the causes of poverty over any particular even long time period. 
The soft left want to redistribute ‘bankers bonuses’, etc., and ‘tax the rich owners of mansions’, etc., [declared interests: I do not own a mansion, nor am I paid a banker’s bonus.] But Robin Hood solutions do not make that much difference to the billions spent on current palliative measures.  The hard left wants to redistribute all ‘wealth’, much of which is in fixed property and largely wealth-dependent on the existence of high relative prices as private property (consider the rows of empty properties in Ireland and Spain). Confiscating such ‘wealth’ is not easily redistributed as public property for the poor (as the Bolsheviks may have realised after moving into the mansions themselves).
Remind ourselves that “the truth of scientific matters [is] through experiment”, including what has been tried up to current times.  Instead, we can start with particular problems and address ourselves to practical means of attempting to solve them gradually.  From there we consider outcomes.  That’s the pragmatic and Smithian way.  Remember, Adam Smith warned in Wealth Of Nations that to believe that tariffs could be abolished entirely was “utopian” (WN IV.ii.43: 471).
If the removal of the causes of poverty were the objective, as I believe it ought to be, the appropriate means would be found by small, local experiments.  We select and improve what works and cast aside what doesn’t work, whatever ideologists say to the contrary.  This might take some time and disappoint people in a hurry, but the current Welfare State, whatever its localised palliative effects, takes longer time replacing the old generations with new generations of poverty, and the palliative costs rise inexorably, provoking ‘caps’ and more expensive bureaucracy to manage it, while the national economic damage of unbalanced State burdens on the productive economy becomes a political football, with interludes of ‘pass the parcel’ as new governments take-over to continue the poverty game, supposedly on new, albeit attractive ‘palliative’ terms.


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