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August 17, 2008

Comments

dearieme

It's certainly true that empty moralising is tedious. By "empty" I mean that it gets you nowhere - it doesn't lead you to think of any useful action you might take. But praising Social Science as the answer reduces me to giggles - I spent several years often in the company of Social Scientists, who were remarkable, many of them, for being dim, ignorant and the very opposite of disinterested seekers after truth.

dearieme

It's certainly true that empty moralising is tedious. By "empty" I mean that it gets you nowhere - it doesn't lead you to think of any useful action you might take. But praising Social Science as the answer reduces me to giggles - I spent several years often in the company of Social Scientists, who were remarkable, many of them, for being dim, ignorant and the very opposite of disinterested seekers after truth.

Dim social scientist aka Bob B

There, you've said it twice so it's bound to be true.

dearieme

I found it necessary for 'em, Bob; they never picked up anything the first time.

William McIlhagga

Are they really workshy? Well, it's pretty obvious that there is a section that are: those that can earn more on benefits than they can possibly earn any other way, because they are unemployable.

I don't know how many that is, though.

Shuggy

"And rather than whine about the workshy poor, we can ask: are they really more workshy than us? If so, why? And are there any feasible policies that might change their behaviour?"

I agree very much with the spirit of your post - and I'd go further and ask how much does it really matter? Regardless of how parsimonious a welfare system is, there has never been one constructed that can eliminate fraud. This isn't any more reason to get rid of a welfare system anymore than tax avoidance is a reason to dispense with a tax system - or a legal system, come to that. Some people cheat - and it's significant that none of the moralisers you link to and those in your comments care to guess what the proportion might be - but benefits keep on being paid to people that need them and taxes continue to be collected from people who have enough income and wealth to afford them.

You are quite right to identify much of the comment on this sort of issue as moralising. The horrible post you link to above displays the usual attitude that the poor should be held to a higher standard of morality than the rich. Unsure about the Social Science thing, though. Maybe rather some history wouldn't go amiss. From this I draw an *aesthetic* judgment: these Victorians are just as ugly as they were the first time around.

Bob B

To reduce the incidence of obesity in the north of England by improving diets, the government is proposing a pilot project to offer grants to corner shops in some northern deprived areas for promotional spending and to install shelving and chiller cabinets. The hope and expectation is that customers will start to eat more veggies and fruit.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2550464/Corner-shops-to-stock-more-fruit-and-vegetables-in-healthy-eating-campaign.html

Of course, another way could be to improve schooling. Around half the secondary schools in more than a few local education authorities in the north are failing by the government's own standard - less than 30% of school pupils at 16 gaining at least 5 GCSEs A*-C grades, including English and maths:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7444822.stm

Aide-memoire:

"Last year [2004], a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) revealed that Britain came seventh from bottom in a league table of staying-on rates [in education and training] for 19 countries. Only Mexico and Turkey had significantly lower rates of participation for this age group. Italy, New Zealand, Portugal and Slovakia have marginally lower rates."
The Guardian, 24 August 2005

"Nearly half of senior managers believe education in the UK has declined over the last 10 years, despite improvements in exam results, a study suggests."
BBC website, 11 August 2008

"Left behind are those without marketable skills in areas where opportunities for manual/unskilled jobs have become scarce."
Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Response to the Urban White Paper, June 1999

More than a million manufacturing jobs have been lost since New Labour came to power in 1997.

Jackart

I don't regard the Poor as "the enemy". They are crushed by sky high marginal rates of taxation, and incentives which condemn them to a life on benefits.

It is lefties like Harpymarx who create the climate which enables an element of the poor become entirely parasitic.

The Enemy therefore is the welfare state. That creates the incentives for people to remain workless for life, to the detriment of all.

Jackart

I don't regard the Poor as "the enemy". They are crushed by sky high marginal rates of taxation, and incentives which condemn them to a life on benefits.

It is lefties like Harpymarx who create the climate which enables an element of the poor become entirely parasitic.

The Enemy therefore is the welfare state. That creates the incentives for people to remain workless for life, to the detriment of all.

Bob B

For a map showing how taxpayers resident in London and the south-east are subsidising public spending in most of the rest of Britain:
http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23416323-details/The+REAL+north-south+divide:+South-East+is+'bankrolling'+Britain/article.do

"The City of London is globalisation in action. It is, first of all, thoroughly international, handling more of the world's deals in over-the-counter derivatives, global foreign equities, eurobonds and foreign exchange than any other financial centre (see chart 3). Second, its firms specialise in innovative, high-value-added products. Third, the City is living proof that clusters work in the way that economists claim. Capital can move like mercury. The main reason why international finance has made London its home is that everyone is there, making it easier to do complicated deals and to trade quickly in large quantities. The City offers a cluster of talent—financial whizz-kids, lawyers and due-diligence accountants—that is second to none, and self-renewing. It helps that English is a near-universal second language and that London's time zone makes it possible to trade in a (long) working day with both Asia and America. Regulation is mainly deft but not lax, and the taxman takes a hospitable view of foreigners' personal earnings."
The Economist, 1 February 2007 (subscription)
http://www.economist.com/specialreports/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8582323

Thomas

Social science offers no solution. Knowing that the rich are like x and the poor are like y will do nothing to change how they are. They are as they are because of the incentives they face. The incentives they face are as they are because the government has incentives to create these incentives. Hence, nobody with the ability to change those things that matter (the incentive structure) has any incentive to make the change. And if we have a model that claims to identify an incentive, the model must necessarily be wrong.

Hence, social science, even at its best, is no more useful than shallow moralizing. This is why economists spend their lives continually surprised by governments' failure to implement "optimal" policies.

Bob B

Isn't it rather an extreme utilitarian interpretation of human behaviour to suppose that it is only motivated by incentive systems constructed by governments?

Why do we worry about schooling, education standards and whether too many school leavers are going to university?

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