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July 15, 2010



Benefit scroungers can be seen, and everyone knows one si something can be seen to be done. Capitalists however require that we restructure society if we want to get rid of them.

On whom would the burden of that process fall?

Joe Schmo.

Ergo people hate one large group of parasites, and accept their boss, because without him, there's no job.

What's worse than being exploited by a capitalist? Not being exploited by a capitalist.

Luis Enrique

"The truth or falsehood of an opinion is only weakly correlated with its political popularity"

I think you have some sample selection problems there. The opinion "we'd be better off if we declared war on France" is both false and politically unpopular. Is it in the sample over which you observe this correlation?


why is there so much popular hostility to exploitation by scroungers and so little to exploitation by bosses (bankers excepted)?

Because many (most?) workers aspire to being a "boss" and believe they could do a better job.

Luis Enrique

"the feasible gains from reforming incapacity benefit are small"

And how large are the gains from ending exploitation by bosses? (bosses as opposed to suppliers of capital, which may be owned by pension funds, or generating interest in high-street savings accounts). If you took all the grotesquely swollen incomes of boss-bankers, boss-lawyers, chief executives etc. and redistributed it around workers, how much would it amount to? You have to compare that not just to the gains from "reforming incapacity benefit", but also from housing benefit and all other tax-payer funded services provided to the voluntarily unemployed (however many people that is: I have no idea).

Phil Ruse

A £100bn-a-year social security budget *is* a huge burden. If we're not seen to take action in some areas, putting aside the argument over how effective such action is, then the danger perhaps exists that 'enough' people will decide we have to do without it altogether?


@Louis. "Is it in the sample over which you observe this correlation?"
Yes it is. A weak correlation doesn't imply nothing can be both false and unpopular - just that things are false and popular as well.

CS Clark

People aspire to be boss exploiters. They don't aspire to be benefit scroungers. Hardly surprising they find the former to be as cuddly as well-paid footballers and the latter as cuddly as well-paid civil servants.

Luis Enrique


I think you miss my point a little (although I was being facetious) - the set of opinions that are both false and unpopular is infinitely large. If you fill your sample with enough of them, won't you find that truth correlates strongly with popularity (and falsehood of unpopularity?). Actually, this may be another case of me embarrassing myself in public ... if I'm right, it needs to be the case that adding more false & unpopular observations to the sample strengthens the correlation. Even if true, the point is daft because implicitly the set of opinions is being constrained to opinions people actually hold (we should invade France is not in the sample).


Benefit fraud £900 million - 2008/9

Bank bailout $200 billion - 2008 (not including costs of recession)

Nothing to be embarrased about here.


As you noted in 1., the (capitalist) media is full of stories about scroungers, out of all proportion to what a burden they place on the economy. The fact is, most people do support a welfare system that looks after the sick and unemployed, supports parents raising kids etc. This is even true in the US (even the Tea Party crowd mostly support social security and medicare: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/us/politics/15poll.html?_r=1&hp. The capitalist class thus go to great lengths to discredit this popular form of social solidarity, and hence their media have us (falsely) believe that most of the £100 billion in welfare is swallowed up by asylum seekers and work-shy slobs.

john b

"The opinion "we'd be better off if we declared war on France" is... politically unpopular."

Cite? ;-)

Peter Risdon

There's a strong sense of social injustice at work here. Real proper-use-of-the-word-injustice injustice. Injustice in the sense that the scale pans are unbalanced - we put into one side, the recipient does not put into the other. This sense is behind the public view of benefit scroungers and bankers.

In the case of capitalists and bosses, things are much less clear. Socialists have failed, after 150 years, to make their case. We don't buy the idea that exploitation is at the heart of capitalism. Sorry.


People feel less exploited by capitalists because they perceive at least a degree of give and take. Your boss had to risk his own money to establish the business, he has to worry about the profitability, the cash flow, payroll, tax, etc. He has to keep the business on a sound footing, and that takes work and talent. The worker gets a lower salary, but none of the risks and legal liabilities. And there is a degree of choice. If you feel over-exploited at work you can look around for another job, or go it alone as a freelance, or even form a workers co-operative. If your boss wants rid of you, he has to pay severance.

Compare this to the view of benefit scroungers. First of all, we have no choice but to pay them. Second, we see no return. Money is taken from the worker, handed to the claimant, end of transaction. And we have a situation where many taxpayers are subsisting on a significantly lower income than some claimants, who never lift a finger to help themselves. This humiliates the contributors far more.


One answer to the question is that if you do not work but have an adequate income then you are not being exploited by a boss. So hatred of "scroungers" is a form of jealousy. Workers must turn up to work and be bullied by a boss. Those enjoying unearned income have more freedom. Or so it seems to those who react this way when presentd with the appropriate Daily Mail properganda.

Wealthy people should get the same treatment logically but if you are really good at exploitation your riches bring admiration as a result of Human evolution producing a selection bias in cognition. we give high status to those apes with large amounts of protein and calories at their disposal. Benefit scroungers fail to meet this criteria as their gains are too small per person to outweigh irrational Jealousy with irrational admiration ala Charles Darwin.


"One could, of course, argue that capitalist exploitation isn’t exploitation at all, but rather the price workers must pay for the provision of capital and bosses’ organizational skills. But even if this is true, it does not suffice to explain the lack of hostility to such an arrangement. "

But surely, if it's true, no intelligent worker would be hostile to it?

Consider: I have no capital, the capitalist has some and risks it (if the business goes bust, he's lost it) and because he's risked it, and given me a job I wouldn't otherwise have had, he deserves some reward.

I am no great organiser, the boss is (and he spends hours and hours doing organisational things I couldn't do) and that gives me a job I wouldn't otherwise have had, surely he deserves some reward.

But your welfare scrounger sits on his arse all day, being paid by taxes taken from me and the boss alike, doesn't know what hard work means and if he ever found out he'd die of shock, what does he really deserve?

Of course, you could reasonably be hostile if the boss is taking too much reward. But that needs to be proved, not taken for granted.

And of course not everybody on welfare is a scrounger, not by any means. But some are, you know, they really are.



Thanks for taking the time to respond. I think you are right in theory, adding lots of false unpopular statements would increase the correlation, but perhaps in practise, as john_b notes, some of those statements will not be universally unpopular so you are just adding randomness which reduces the correlation.

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