Monday, July 27, 2015

Nothing great about the welfare state

In "The Welfare of Nations", the decade-later follow-up to his "The Welfare State We’re In", James Bartholomew – former leader writer for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail – takes us on a tour of the world’s welfare states.

It’s fair to say he isn’t a fan. He argues that the welfare state undermines old values and ‘crowds out’ both our inner resourcefulness and our sense of duty to one another – including our own families. Instead of aspiring to be self-reliant, the welfare state makes us self-absorbed. People aren’t encouraged to exercise responsibility anymore; instead, they are handed a plethora of ‘rights’. Welfare states ‘have diminished our civilisation’, Bartholomew concludes.

The welfare state has always been a problematic entity, from its modern beginnings in the nineteenth century with Bismarck’s cynical ‘state socialism’– built as much to placate the increasingly politically active masses as to attend to their welfare – to the vast systems maintaining millions of economically inactive citizens across the world today. The welfare state, as its advocates contend, always promises a better society, with higher levels of equality, but, as Bartholomew counters, it also tends to foster unemployment, ‘broken families’ and social isolation.

Some versions of the welfare state are better than others. Wealthy Switzerland has a low unemployment rate despite generous social insurance-based benefits. But, at the same time, the Swiss state imposes tough conditions: there’s no minimum wage and workers can be fired on the spot. Sweden’s benefit system is generous, too, but if you can’t afford the rent on a property, you have to move out.

In the UK, matters are equally complex. For instance, shared-ownership schemes, ‘affordable housing’ and planning regulations contribute to distinctly unaffordable house prices. Indeed, housing costs have risen from 10 per cent of average UK household income in 1947 to over 25 per cent. For the poorest sections of society, it is worse still. This is despite the fact that the state subsidises dysfunctional, workless households on bleak public housing estates.

And what of state education? Nearly one-in-five children in OECD countries is functionally illiterate. The best performing advanced countries have autonomous schools, ‘high stakes’ exams, quality teachers and a culture of discipline and hard work. Compare that to the US, where you can’t get rid of bad unionised teachers in the state schools.

Bartholomew convincingly argues that state schools’ ‘shameful’ inadequacy, for all the rhetoric to the contrary, breeds inequality. He fears that the success of the free- and charter-school movement is at risk, too, from ‘creeping government control’. Bartholomew is upfront about his own old-fashioned conservative views. He’s a kind of evidence-based Peter Hitchens, using ‘bundles of academic studies’ to show what he suspected of the welfare state all along. The care of ‘strangers’, he argues, is bad for children and aged parents alike, and damages the social fabric. Over half of Swedish children are born to unmarried mothers, whereas the family in Italy, he says approvingly, is ‘the main source of welfare’, with charity-run ‘family houses’ (no flats or benefits) for single mothers. At a time when Conservatives aren’t really very conservative, it takes Bartholomew to ask important questions about social change.

Again, southern Europe offers a useful contrast to the situation in northern Europe. Over half of single people aged 65 or over in Italy, Portugal and Spain live with their children. Just three per cent of single Danes do. Should individual autonomy trump the burden of caring for children and family members? What role should the state play? UK social workers are office-based, writes Bartholomew, and contracted care workers follow ‘rules rather than doing things from an impulse of loving care’.

By 2050 over a third of the European population will be aged over 60. Even though the age at which people are eligible for pensions is increasing, state pensions can’t be sustained, says Bartholomew. In Poland, Greece and Italy, pensions account for more than a quarter of public spending. The UK spends nine per cent of its national income on healthcare, the US an insurance-fuelled 18 per cent, and Singapore just five per cent (though Singapore has to put twice that into ‘personal’ health-savings accounts). ‘Wealth leads to better healthcare’, says Bartholomew, but the monopolistic UK system, despite the NHS’s officially cherished status, is one of the worst of the advanced countries for health outcomes, including, for example, cancer-survival rates. ‘Obamacare’ notwithstanding, millions of uninsured Americans – neither poor enough for Medicaid nor old enough for Medicare – struggle to pay for healthcare.

Democracies, says Bartholomew, are susceptible to the fantasy that welfare states can solve our problems without consequence or cost. This is despite US public spending increasing from seven per cent of GDP in 1900 to 41 per cent of GDP in 2011. In 2012, France revealed that public spending accounted for 57 per cent of its GDP.

But it’s Bartholomew’s critique of the wider welfare culture, rather than his carps at benefits systems, which provides an important corrective to what can be a narrow and mean-spirited discussion. He also offers practical solutions: let’s increase housing supply but abolish public housing; let’s have a system of ‘co-payment’ for healthcare between state and individual; let’s allow schools and hospitals to compete in markets; and let’s give individuals the opportunity to save and insure themselves to pay for social-care needs and pensions (albeit through Singapore-style compulsory bank accounts).

So what do we do with the welfare state? As Bartholomew puts it, the welfare state, rather than capitalism or communism, was ‘the ultimate victor of the turmoil of the twentieth century’. But Bartholomew makes clear that this is a hollow victory with many millions left idle and communities undermined. So yes, let’s cut the welfare state down to size and stop infantilising its dependants. But we also need to get more ambitious than Bartholomew allows. He thinks it’s too late to get our freedoms back and argues for a minimal ‘welfare’ state only. But why stop there? If the architects of the welfare state have anything to teach us, it is to be bolder in our visions.



Another Assault On Your Fourth Amendment Rights

In his latest piece on the Fourth Amendment in The American Thinker our colleague constitutional lawyer Mark J. Fitzgibbons details how the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has appropriated the power to seize medical records on 'Fishing Expedition' investigations with no subpoena from a judge.

A United States District Court judge in Texas has ruled for the Drug Enforcement Agency that an administrative subpoena may be used to search medical records. It was inevitable, says Fitzgibbons, given the march towards illegally nullifying the Fourth Amendment through use of these judge-less bureaucrat warrants authorized by Congress.

Administrative subpoenas are issued unilaterally by government agencies -- meaning without approval by neutral judges -- and without probable cause stated under oath and affirmation as required by the Fourth Amendment. According to Fitzgibbons there are now 336 federal statutes authorizing administrative subpoenas, according to the Department of Justice.

The latest case illustrative of the institutionalization of violations of the Fourth Amendment to draw Fitzgibbons’ attention is U.S. v Zadeh.

In Zadeh, the DEA obtained the records of 35 patient files without showing probable cause or obtaining a warrant issued by a judge. Citing New Deal-era case law, Judge Reed O’Connor noted that “[t]he Supreme Court has refused to require that [a federal] agency have probable cause to justify issuance of an administrative subpoena,” and that they may be issued “merely on suspicion that the law is being violated, or even just because it wants assurance that it is not." (Emphasis added).

In other words, the government may now use “fishing expeditions” for medical records concludes Fitzgibbons.

Those constitutionally grotesque New Deal-era decisions violated the Fourth Amendment on its face, and were ideological, progressive foolishness when issued against the likes of the Morton Salt Company in 1950 said Fitzgibbons.

Dr. Zadeh has filed an appeal notes Fitzgibbons. Conservative activist Andy Schlafly, the lawyer for the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, has filed an amicus brief stating, “[w]ithout a warrant and without initially identifying themselves, federal agents searched patient medical records . . . based merely on a state administrative subpoena. A month later the [DEA] sought enforcement . . . [and n]one of the checks and balances against overreaching by one branch of government existed for this warrantless demand for medical records.”

A 1946 Supreme Court opinion used in the Zadeh case to justify warrantless searches of medical records received a scathing and prescient dissent by liberal Justice Frank Murphy notes Fitzgibbons.

Murphy wrote:

To allow a nonjudicial officer, unarmed with judicial process, to demand the books and papers of an individual is an open invitation to abuse of that power. It is no answer that the individual may refuse to produce the material demanded. Many persons have yielded solely because of the air of authority with which the demand is made, a demand that cannot be enforced without subsequent judicial aid. Many invasions of private rights thus occur without the restraining hand of the judiciary ever intervening.

Only by confining the subpoena power exclusively to the judiciary can there be any insurance against this corrosion of liberty. Statutory enforcement would not thereby be made impossible. Indeed, it would be made easier. A people's desire to cooperate with the enforcement of a statute is in direct proportion to the respect for individual rights shown in the enforcement process.

Quoting the Declaration of Independence, Justice Murphy noted how such methods of searches were so contrary to liberty and law that they previously contributed to "successful revolt.”

Soon, says Fitzgibbons, everything will be considered within the reach of our soft-police state government in violation of the Fourth Amendment unless administrative subpoenas are outlawed, as they should have been nearly 70 years ago.

The targeting of private medical records shows that it is now far past the time to eliminate administrative subpoenas for good. Congress may do that legislatively. History also shows it can be done even by the courts, which have the authority -- actually, the constitutional duty -- to declare void acts of Congress in violation of the Constitution.



Under Obama, Blacks Are Worse Off — Far Worse

By Larry Elder

Ninety-five percent of black voters in 2008 voted for then-Sen. Barack Obama. Surely a “progressive” black president would care about, empathize with and understand black America in a way no other president ever has or could, right? Exit polls from Pew Research show that 63 percent of all voters – and 65 percent of Obama voters – cited the economy as the number one reason they voted for him. Iraq was a distant second at 10 percent. Even for black Obama voters, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

After six years, the report card is in. The grades are not pretty. By every key economic measurement, blacks are worse off under Obama. In some cases, far worse off.

What about poverty? In 2009, when Obama took office, the black poverty rate was 25.8 percent. As of 2014, according to Pew Research Center, the black poverty rate was 27.2 percent.

What about income? CNNMoney says, “Minority households' median income fell 9 percent between 2010 and 2013, compared to a drop of only 1 percent for whites.” The Financial Times wrote last October: “Since 2009, median non-white household income has dropped by almost a 10th to $33,000 a year, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s survey of consumer finances. As a whole, median incomes fell by 5 percent. But by the more telling measure of net wealth – assets minus liabilities – the numbers offer a more troubling story.”

What about net worth and the black-white “wealth gap”? The Financial Times said: “The median non-white family today has a net worth of just $18,100 – almost a fifth lower than it was when Mr. Obama took office. White median wealth, on the other hand, has inched up by 1 percent to $142,000. In 2009, white households were seven times richer than their black counterparts. That gap is now eightfold. Both in relative and absolute terms, blacks are doing worse under Mr. Obama.” Remember, these numbers apply to all “non-whites.” For blacks, it’s worse.

When looking only at “black net worth” – which is lower compared to non-whites as a whole – white households are actually 13 times wealthier than black households. From 2010 to 2013, according to the Federal Reserve, white household median wealth increased a modest 2.4 percent, while Hispanic families' wealth declined 14 percent, to $13,700. But blacks' net worth fell from $16,600 to $11,000. This is an astonishing three-year drop of 34 percent. Investors Business Daily put it this way, “That’s a steeper decline than occurred from 2007 to 2010, when blacks' net worth fell 13.5 percent.” The black/white “wealth-gap” has reached a 25-year high.

What about unemployment? In 2009, black unemployment was 12.7 percent, and by 2014, it had fallen to 10.1 percent. This sounds like good news until one examines the black labor force participation rate – the percentage of blacks working or seeking work. It’s the lowest since these numbers have been recorded.

In a report for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, economist Dean Baker writes, “The drop in labor force participation was sharpest for African Americans, who saw a decline of 0.3 percentage points to 60.2 percent, the lowest rate since December of 1977. The rate for African American men fell 0.7 percentage points to 65.6 percent, the lowest on record. The decline in labor force participation was associated with a drop in the overall African American unemployment rate of 0.5 percentage points to 11.9, and a drop of 0.6 percentage points to 11.6 percent for African-American men.” Not good.

What about home ownership? According to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, the picture is ugly: “Millions of homeowners, particularly in minority and high-poverty neighborhoods, are still underwater on their mortgages, while millions more renters have been forced to live in housing they cannot afford or is structurally inadequate. And with the ongoing growth in low-income households, housing assistance reaches a shrinking share of those in need. … Homeownership rates have fallen six percentage points among black households – double that among white households. … More than 25 percent of mortgage homeowners in both high-poverty and minority neighborhoods were underwater – owing more than their homes are now worth – in 2013. This rate is nearly twice the shares in either white or low-poverty neighborhoods.”

The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., in 2011, complained about the economic plight of Black America. He said, “If (former President) Bill Clinton had been in the White House and had failed to address this problem, we probably would be marching on the White House.” He repeated the statement 12 months later, when black unemployment stood at 14.1 percent: “As the chair of the Black Caucus, I’ve got to tell you, we are always hesitant to criticize the President. With 14 percent (black) unemployment, if we had a white president we’d be marching around the White House.” Rep. Cleaver should start marching because, to use his own words, the problems have not been addressed.

But, hey, the Confederate battle flag is down.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

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