Saturday, 3 April 2010

In Defence of the Under-Class.

In contemporary Britain, the Right appears to be constantly obsessing over the resilience of the welfare state, which they so detest, that was constructed under the watchful eyes of men like Clement Attlee, William Beveridge and Aneurin Bevan. The same people who began dismantling the British Empire incidentally, giving in to Gandhi in India famously. Despite the success the Thatcherites have had in "rolling back" the state, except in areas which are beneficial to the wealthy, there is still a very real obsession on the Right with dismantling the welfare state. This is particularly true of the benefits system, which remains a constant subject of fixation. There is often talk of a "culture of dependency", created by liberals and left-wing lunatics, which has ruined Britain, in papers like The Sun and The Daily Mail. Tory politicians like Daniel Hannan, and right-wing think tanks like the Adam Smith Institute, still hold a place in their cold little hearts for a contempt of the National Health Service. Thankfully, the disdain of the NHS which free-market fundamentalists possess is not welcome in government and will not be tolerated by the British electorate. However, due to the rampant individualism of the last 30 years, attacks on the benefits system are not just tolerated but are welcomed by some.

Take the right-wing attacks launched on single-parents, usually single-mothers, who are living off of government "hand-outs". This is what it boils down to, in plain English: single-mums don't have the necessary means to raise their children, thus there offspring will turn out as dysfunctional, exhibiting various emotional and behavioural problems. Therefore, we should cut off their benefits to "encourage" these parents to work and teach them to regret having ended the relationship they were in before it went sour. This "argument" is devoid of any concept of compassion or empathy, which is ironic because it is often utilised by populist reactionaries who claim to care about society. It's astounding and appalling that this so-called "argument" can be accepted by anyone. Those who argue that the benefits system should be reconstructed to neglect single-parents, and by extension children, cannot claim to be looking to prevent the moral breakdown of society. The prevalence of opposition to the benefits system among the working-class population is a testament to the uniformity of the mass-media. There has been a campaign against single-parents in this country, going back to the early 1990s, and they are now depicted as another symptom of "Broken Britain" today. We should not be allowing this to happen in our society.

The major assumption of this view is that raising a child is too much for one person, but not so much to deserve reward and isn't an obstacle to them from working a "real job". The fact that it costs parents on average somewhere between £140k and £200k, to raise a children to the age of 18, seems irrelevant to these people. Those who lean toward this view, among the working-class, are mostly seeking tax-cuts and don't see why they should support those, whom they see as failing to contribute anything to society. But in doing so, such people are contributing to societal decline. This may mean that the people who lean towards this view have not thought it through. Since, if we want to live in a decent society,  we have an invested interest in the rearing of the next generation. Despite what Margaret Thatcher believed, there is such a thing as society. Therefore, we should not subject them to the kind of viciousness that only individualism and the free-market can unleash. If we are not willing to endure the horror of such forces, it is immoral of us to extend these standards to others.

The notion that we as individuals are obligated to work on command under fear of absolute poverty - reliant on charity from strangers, friends and relatives - is deeply reactionary. As it is in opposition to Enlightenment values. The idea that eliminating the benefits system is consistent with the improvement of society is an utter fallacy. Since such an elimination is more compatible with rampant individualism, it is not compatible with any collective concerns like community or solidarity. Because the aim is to create a society in which people perform on command for money, to avoid becoming destitute, which is not free action and is slavish. To rent oneself out to a Boss could easily be seen as a degrading servile act, having no choice in the matter as it is the only way to survive. There was a time when such a thing was viewed with derision. Way back, when many working-class people saw laissez-faire capitalism as destructive of their culture and dignity. Nevertheless, today we can see people turning to the belief that people are obligated to work and should be forced to work. It could be said that this a result of successful indoctrination.

In that sense, the people, arguing that individuals should have no choice in the matter, are no more than "Little Eichmanns" propping up an economic system based on domination and exploitation. This is not to say that everyone should just not work and lie back on a bed of dole money for the rest of their lives. But that there should be greater efforts made by our government to create jobs, to nurture worker cooperatives and workers self-management, to further the 'Common Good' of society. It seems fair to say that those who work in a place should own and run them, free of subordination by a Boss, does it not? It may sound radical or idealistic. Though, if we take some instances where factories and cab firms in the US have been successfully collectivised, and are run democratically by workers, wages increased as did efficiency. This is because the workers on the ground floor know a lot more, about what the work entails and how things should work, than the Boss sitting behind a desk in a suit and tie giving orders.

In the book The Spirit Level, an analysis of statistics relating to social deprivation and inequality revealed something quite interesting. There is a correlation between economic inequality and social deprivation, such as violent crime, teenage pregnancies, drug abuse, mental illness, literacy and even high obesity rates. The gap between the rich and the poor is now wider than it was in the 1960s. It was over the last 30 years, that pockets of deprivation have been formed and have continued to expand. Whereas, in Scandinavia and Japan, issues such as violent crime, teenage pregnancies, drug abuse and obesity are far less common. Coincidentally, Scandinavian states like Norway and Sweden are far more equal than the UK, the same is true of Japan. It is redistribution of wealth that has made countries like Sweden more egalitarian. But the "Little Eichmanns" have no problem with the massive inequality in British society, in fact they couldn't care less about it. Instead they are preoccupied with implementing reactionary policies that can deprive children of a decent start in life, but also function to trap people in jobs they loathe.

It most definitely the case that the populist writers of The Sun and The Daily Mail are posing simplistic solutions for complex problems. The opinion that Britain is "broken" and that social engineering can resolve the problem is like most suggestions posited by the Right these days.  It appeals to the angry white men, who read such papers and will be riled up into a rage against other poor people. But not against the richest 1% of the British population, who could provide our public services with £10 billion to spend on the public sector, if they paid 1% in national insurance. Papers like The Sun and The Daily Mail are owned and run by people like Rupert Murdoch (rich, white and male), so they wouldn't want to advocate  any tax hikes. That might "rock the boat". This is also revealing of another contradiction on the Right. An income increase (e.g. tax-cuts) for the rich is an incentive, whereas an income rise (e.g. benefits) for the poor is a disincentive. The problems can be seen by many, as we have seen much deprivation over the last 30 years, and the solutions they offer appeal to the most primal of human feelings - fear and greed. Greed for lower taxes and more disposable income, fear of the moral collapse of society.

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