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January 30, 2008



The politicians, who act in our name and with our money, need to show that they really took care of it.
This, in theory at least, is easy when they give it in exchange of something: work (bureaucracy), products (public buildings). In our modern democratic societies, is very difficult for a politician to pretend that he has spent the money in something, lets say a bridge, that does not exist.
But in the case that you mention, it is quite tricky. They are giving money in exchange of something that is not there: you get paid for not doing.
Probably that makes the rest of people suspicious (they have to work for their money) and the politician insecure. He is always on the brink of being conned. So he has to show the manners of a bully.
It is not as much as to reduce the fraud as to tranquilice the taxpayer that he has to make a fuss of it all the time, not to reduce fraud.
By the way, the 6964 should be compared with other rates of convictions versus crime level to asses the estimate volume of fraud.

Luis Enrique

er ... the political logic to targeting benefit fraud is clear enough isn't it?* And it's not as if the reasons why MPs don't police themselves so rigorously are hard to understand either**. So are you reasons 1-4 really so exhaustive?

* the logic is: people doing a job they don't enjoy for a crummy wage - a large constituency - don't like the idea their taxes might be paying other people to lounge around.

So politicians have a clear motive to appear to be "doing something" about benefit cheats, whether it's actually much of a problem or not.

Where's the class warfare in that? Or don't you think that such a policy (getting tough on welfare cheats!) wins votes from working class voters?

Does anyone really think that it's only wealth pigs who object to welfare cheats, whereas working class voters (and good lefties) want the state would dole out the cash more easily? That smacks of Hampstead lefty thinking to me. I'd have thought that the idea of benefit fraud pisses off somebody who drags themselves out of bed each day to do earn peanuts from a dull job far more than it pisses off a middle class lefty, sympathising with those poor poor people from afar.

** lots of people appear to object to economic models that employ the assumption that people are rational and self-serving. Is that assumption still so objectionable in the context of political economy models? (i.e. start from the assumption that politicians are self-serving shits?)

Matthew Sinclair

1. has to be pretty important, surely? You've only found a single example, hardly much of a pattern. Had you done the same survey last week you'd have found zero.

Of course, benefit fraud is cheaper than political incompetence but political incompetence is at least as big an issue. I bet you'll find more Tory parliamentary questions (and other wind) seeking to expose government incompetence than you will seeking to expose benefit fraud.

Compared to your original comparison of MP fraud benefit fraud is just a lot more, financially, important. People don't like to feel that their money is being lost to fraudsters and they're losing more of it to benefit fraudsters than to MP fraudsters.

None of this stops Conway being a complete disgrace. It's just that you're leaping to class hatred without proper justification again.

Luis Enrique

I should perhaps make clear that, personally, I don't equate benefits claimants with benefit cheats, spongers etc

I would be interested to know what proportion of welfare claimants people think can be described as just milking the system, with no intention of working [or of owning up to working]. Debates about welfare usually take place in a number free zone, which is a shame.

The guess I'd pull out of the air is maybe 10% of long-term unemployed are taking the piss, so what'd, that be around 1% of total claimants? That's much more than the 0.04% quoted by Chris above, but I'd expect number caught to be much smaller than number doing. What about disability claimants, what percentage of them do people think are fraudulent? I have no idea.

Does anybody know of any research besides the government's own how-many-have-we-caught numbers?

I wonder how strongly private estimates of welfare sponger numbers correlate with opinions in the "welfare debate". Perhaps other commentators could post their estimates? It would be interesting to see how people will react, should anybody uncover research where the numbers don't accord with preconceptions.


Luis Enrique...
Let us assume that you are correct (that politicians are (all?) self-serving shits). Then what does that say about the people who elect them?

Luis Enrique


I don't know .. that the electorate faces a choice between a douche and a turd sandwich? [see Southpark episode 119].

Luis Enrique

btw, I'm not asserting that all politicians are self serving bastards, although if I needed to pick a way of describing their behaviour to use a simple model, that's probably the one I'd pick. It sure explains a lot.


reason, it may only mean that the electorate is unable to find out which politicians are self serving bastards, so there is no reason for any individual politician NOT to be one.


"Why do the main parties make so much fuss about benefit fraud?"

Because people who commit it are an easy and politically expedient target?

a very public sociologist

Got it in one Rochenko. Could you imagine the press fury if the government attacked Murdoch for not paying any taxes?


«"Why do the main parties make so much fuss about benefit fraud?"
Because people who commit it are an easy and politically expedient target?»

Partly I think, but because in large part it is a narrative depending on a big political change that has happened over the past 3 decades, a change that Chris Dillow seems not to take into account.

The change comes in two parts, which fit each other nicely:

* The overwhelming majority of voters are landlords and at least in part rentiers, and both the general population but especially voters are getting older on average.
* Conservatives have persuaded the vat majority of voters that the class enemy are the exploitative, parasitic, undeserving poor, not the hard working, trickling-down heroic rich.

The story is that the "welfare queens" and the "strapping young bucks" (in the USA) and the "single mothers" and "cheating yobs" (in the UK) are those exploiting the middle class; if only the mean poor and the wage earners stopped sucking down cash from the middle class than the latter could fully enjoy the gushing trickle down the from the generous rich.

«government attacked Murdoch for not paying any taxes?»

But the story is that Murdoch's enormous income proves that his properties are creating a lot of wealth, and he is therefore an outstanding member of society who deserves to enjoy the fruit of his immense productivity fully. Something that legions of well padded middle class rentiers relate very much to.

«what proportion of welfare claimants people think can be described as just milking the system, with no intention of working [or of owning up to working].»

But what's wrong with that? As a working person, the idea that by paying a very modest amount to those who have a high leisure preference one can shrink the labour supply seems very good to me.
In effect the Thatcher and subsequent conservative governments have done this by allowing a lot of people on disability benefit to reduce headline unemployment numbers.

However as I mentioned above in the intervening decades government have realized that the electoral body are now mostly asset owning rentiers, who are conversely interested in as large a supply of labour as possible, as they do not compete that much in the general labour market. Thus ever meaner unemployment support and encouraging as much immigration as possible.

Consider this marvelous quote from a government minister, which tells the whole story of where the median voter is perceived to be on this position:


«He said that benefit claimants needed to compete for jobs with migrant
workers, many from Eastern Europe. He went on: "We cannot reasonably
ask hard-working families to pay for the unwillingness of some to take
responsibility to engage in the labour market.»

Rentiers with one or more real properties and owning also a secure government job are of course delighted with an increased supply of plumbers, maids, gardeners, baristas, as that lowers their cost of living.

Chris Dillow seems to be reluctant to acknowledge that it is median voters that elect governments, so either we have a government elected by and pandering to median voters who are in large measure rentiers or an unelected government that would have fairer policies that would mean nothing in practice.


«Let us assume that you are correct (that politicians are (all?) self-serving shits). Then what does that say about the people who elect them?»

Well, people elect someone usually not because they like their character and honesty, but to represent their interests. So the people who get elected are those who work towards doing something for their voters, and what they are like matters a lot less.

Anyhow some politicians are pure opportunists, some are purely driven by conviction, and some do both.

For example the "gobshites" in Labour today clearly think that they must pander to median voters who are older authoritarian rentiers, and so they do (ASBOs, inheritance tax, ...) but enough of them still retain enough of their convictions that they also enact progressive oriented policies to the benefit of the less fortunate (e.g. tax credits), but then keep very quiet about this, to avoid irritating their core base of deeply conservative and reactionary voters.


As Blissex points out, voters are themselves likely to be self-serving. No one has argued convincingly that a random person in the public who was given the chance to employ his relative rather than having a more open competition for the job would be any more or less likely to do so than an MP. As such, I do wonder whether the claim made by some that MPs are more self-serving than the general public is actually true. It may, in fact be false, and the general public [if given the power] could use it more poorly than many politicians.

Luis Enrique

"As a working person, the idea that by paying a very modest amount to those who have a high leisure preference one can shrink the labour supply"

This is surely the lump of labour fallacy. We cannot make ourselves better off by paying people not to work. If rather than sufficient taxes being paid to support one non-worker, those taxes were not levied and that non-worker started working, that would increase the demand for labour.

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