Entitlement and resentment

There has been much discussion over the last week about the coalition government’s first 100 days. Some of this analysis has been useful (like that on this blog), whilst much of it has been rather odd. There has been a rush to judgement as if we can state with some certainty what the government is and isn’t going to do after only 14 weeks.

However, the task that the government has set itself – to reduce the size and role of the state – is a long-term task, and what makes it more difficult is that the key change is not merely a matter of economics and politics, but involves a significant cultural shift.

The biggest cultural change that the government needs to make is to eradicate the sense that people are due certain entitlements. Instead of assuming that they are entitled to benefits and services as of right, people need to come to terms with the fact that what they receive comes at the expense of others: welfare benefits can only be granted to some because others pay tax. Calling a benefit an entitlement ignores the fact that the money has to be earned by someone and then taken by government.

Matching the idea of entitlement is the problem of resentment. This is the sense that government does not work for us, does not care and might actually be operating against us. Some who feel this resentment do so because they feel they are paying taxes that are being squandered on others. But the highest level of resentment actually comes from those who benefit most from the entitlement-based system of welfare. It is those who benefit the most from welfare and the professionals who depend on these structures that feel most strongly that the state is against them.

I would argue that this latter form of resentment arises precisely because of the belief that welfare recipients, backed by welfare professionals, are entitled to certain goods and services as of right and without having to make any contribution themselves. What matters now is not what one does but the mere fact that one is. The job of the new government is to change this attitude and make it clear that benefits come with strings attached. This is a task that will take much longer than 100 days.

Talking about it being a long term project, I always like recalling Herbert Spencer noting that between 1871-1873 3500+ Act of Parliament were wholly or partly repealed. Beat that Cleggeron, we need you to!

It was one of my earliest lessons in life that human nature dictates however good one is to someone, if you give them something (money, help etc) for long enough, they will come to expect it as of right, and get very cross if you attempt to stop it. They (and you) will be much happier if they never had the money/assistance in the first place.The only solution is to to give a massive notice period of the withdrawal, long enough that the person can think ‘Thats so far ahead I don’t need to worry about it’. Then when the time arrives, no-one can argue they weren’t told. Benefits should (for the vast majority) be time limited. 7 years of adult life perhaps.

I suppose you could argue that, since everyone has a duty to stay alive, it follows that they’re entitled to a job. If the state fails to see that they are given one by someone who can reasonably bear the burden, then they’re owed compensation during unemployment.

A duty to whom, Michael? Only one’s self and, if there are any, one’s dependents. Certainly not a duty to me, or some random employer, or the state (unless one assumes the state needs us all alive in order to “farm” our labour for their benefit!)So you have a right not to have the means of survival (labour and property) taken from you by force, but a duty, to yourself, to use those means. If that means retreating from the city to an unused acre of ground on which you can grow your own life’s sustenance then perhaps that is the limit of the state’s obligation, given it protects the rights of landowners not making use of theirs? Then, idle labour would become scarce, and valuable.

In answer to Michael and Jock, I think we can argue that we have duties to others and to society in general – if you like you can follow Robert Nozick and define them as side constraints on our behaviour – but that does not imply we have a duty to the state or that the state has responsibility to provide us with anything. The automatic link between duties and state provision is what needs questioning not whether duties exist between us. And to pre-empt the question of where these duties arise from, I would suggest that they are largely conventional.

The duty to stay alive is mentioned in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, in which context it appears a duty to God. In the world we actually live in, there is no cultivable land I know of which is not under ownership and from which I would be ousted as a trespasser if I were to enter it.So, in the way of my ability to earn my living stands someone else’s property rights. Employers decide who works and who doesn’t.There are two ways of dealing with this. In the ancient world it was the razzia. In a more civilised world, you have an ordered legal system which takes money from some to give to others.

How on earth, Michael Petek, does it follow that since everyone has a ‘duty’ to stay alive (do they? a duty to whom?) then everyone is entitled to a job? By what system of logic do you propose this? Why does simply being alive entitle one to have a job? And further, why does this then require the state to compensate for not having one? It’s not up to the state to ensure the individual is employed, it’s up to the individual! People can’t be compensated simply for existing. By your rationale, everyone should simply be paid money by the state (and where would it get its money from?) no matter what. This is not only practical unworkable, but it’s logical nonsense. You’re quite insane.

The answer, Whig, as I have already given, is that one has a duty to God to preserve his life and not implicate himself in his own death by any culpable act. In order to gain the necessities of life, one must produce them oneself on one’s own property. Alternatively, one must work on the property of another to obtain them, or other things exchangeable for them. Exceptionally, one may be rich enough to not have to work for a living, to which extent he has no title to a job.Is it the responsibility of the individual to see that he is employed? There are two possible answers. Either it is the responsibility for the individual to apply for jobs. The alternative is in the next posting.

For a man to get a job, the concurrence of his contractual counterparty is necessary. If an individual who needs to work for a living applies for a job but is refused, then his responsibility is discharged. He has an assertable claim that the employer is harming him. That is the same as saying that the State might have a legitimate title to coerce the employer into hiring him.

I was just wondering which benefits your were referring to?

I agreed with what Michael right up until his last sentence, which seemed a non-sequitur: why is the state presumed to be the guardian of the self?In answer to Michelle, there is certainly a need to differentiate between types of benefit – or more properly types of cases, and this should be based on capability as distinct from simple entitlement. We also need to appreciate that the notion of entitlement is a separate one from the provision of support for certain individuals and households.

Peter, the starting point is that one who needs a job and applies for one has an assertable claim that the employer who refuses him is harming him. At that point he can reasonably hold that employer to be his enemy. Part of the purpose of the state is to uphold social peace, and that entails making arrangements for the resolution of disputes such as this.

Michael, I’m afraid I don’t see why the need for a job places an assertable claim against anyone. Are you really saying it is the duty of an employer to provide with me a job if I feel I need it, and that if that employer refuses to honour this ‘duty’ then I am in dispute with him and can turn to the state for restitution? Who defines the need?: I need a job and so demand Goldman Sachs employ me on a six figure salary and if not I can turn to the state to punish my new ‘enemy’ and fund my lifestyle into the bargain. I’m sure you cannot seriously be arguing for this, but I’m not sure what else you might mean.

An ‘assertable’ claim is not the same as a claim which is entitled to succeed. It is a moral claim which deserves a hearing. I need a job if I would starve or be reduced to destitution without one. If I apply to an employer for a job and he refuses, then either the state (1) must seize itself of the matter for the sake of public peace, or (2) it leaves me to be judge in my own cause. In the second alternative I am entitled to treat that employer as a personal enemy if I so choose.But I don’t have a right to a six-figure salary. I have a claim to a job which delivers a decent standard of living. Who decides? Either I do, or the state does.

Michael, but what if the employer cannot afford to employ an extra employee or you are not in any way suitable? Your argument is a means to generate the very from of resentment I mention in my blog entry. I still cannot see why the state must step here – you haven’t explained why the state has a role to force one person, who has acted perfectly properly, to bend to the will of another. You seem to be advocating a rather crude mix of Marx and Nietzsche.

Peter, it all depends on one’s judgement of what is affordable and whether or not I am suitable for a job. The employer can afford to employ an extra employee if he could do so and still remain solvent. His profits might fall within that limit to a lower positive value, but if he refuses on that ground to hire me, then he is acting immorally. Specifically, he is greedy and therefore (according to the New Testamant) an idolater and, as such, an evildoer.Further, my assessment that I am suitable for the job might be correct, and his assessment to the contrary might be incorrect.The point is that I am judge in my own cause as long as the state does not intervene to arbitrate.

Michael, the problem here is that everyone else will assume that ‘God is on their side’ and act accordingly. In terms of judgement, how can you in practice gainsay the employer and why should your view be more important than his?Are you really saying that you may take the law into your own hands unless and until the state intervenes to do your bidding? This is a rather strange theology you are peddling.

Peter, state intervention is precisely the point. Everyone on this earth is here to work to gain their living, and if someone gets in their way and stops them from doing so there is potential for conflict. That is why the state has to intervene to ensure social peace, the orderly resolution of disputes and the protection of the poor. Otherwise civilised social life breaks down and becomes a Darwinian and barbaric struggle of all against all.If the state withdraws its protection, then it leaves my survival in my own hands for me to secure it as I will by fair means or foul.

Michael, your scenario *might* be valid if there were only one job on the planet (even then I would say the applicant is in no way *entitled* to it) but it is just not right to say that being rejected for a job is “stopping” the applicant from earning a living.In fact, in so far as a situation might arise where there was only one job in the market, it is far more likely that this is due to government intervention, preventing the jobless setting up for themselves through barriers to entry like regulation.The state basically causes and maintains joblessness in its own interests as well as those of its corporate cronies who ant to keep the cost of labour down.

Michael, your starting position was one of Christian morality and you argued that this was the basis of human dignity and hence the need for the state to protect it. However, you now seem to be stating that unless there is a state we will act in a selfish and self-motivated manner at the expense of all others. Where has the sense of a Christian self gone in the face of the ‘barbaric struggle of all against all’. I’m still struggling to find any coherence here.

Being rejected for a job – or a business loan – is indeed “stopping” the applicant from earning a living, at least for today, because in the normal course of things the property rights of others stand in the way of his access to the means of doing so.Peter, your point about the state is anwered by the fact that the state is an exigency of man’s social nature, and it has the care of the common good. It must create the conditions which enable everyone to attain their legitimate goals relatively thoroughly and easily. It would have to do so even in the absence of greed and evil.

Michael, it is not “stopping”. You are exhibiting classic Leftist inversion.“His profits might fall within that limit to a lower positive value, but if he refuses on that ground to hire me, then he is acting immorally. ”In a word, codswallop.The employer must have freedom of association and as such the right to DISassociate, i.e. to not employ. Who is to be this judge of what profit the employer can afford? The employer, of course.“It must create the conditions which enable everyone to attain their legitimate goals relatively thoroughly and easily”The problem here is must+enable. No. The state must remove others from preventing them attempting to attain goals

Tim Carpenter, it’s clear that as a Libertarian you don’t believe that man has a social nature, which is demonstrated by the fact that he can communicate and comes into the world as the offspring of a mother and a father.Now, as long as I am refused employment or a business loan and have no productive property of my own, how am I supposed to earn a living?And yes, the employer is acting immorrally because he is being greedy.
Let him and me be each the sovereign judge of his ability to afford to hire me.If he doesn’t, then he’s in my way, and I see no reason why I should not treat him as hostile.

Michael, your argument here is entirely arbitrary and based on personal ego. Where is the morality in your argument? You seem to be suggesting that just because you want something you should have it and if no one let you they are greedy, selfish and your enemy.

This is an interesting esoteric debate.However, the reality of government is that the fiscal position requires real cuts to services currently provided by government to improve the finances.A philosophical debate sums up the quandry: it is easier as it avoids the tough decisions and it is difficult in that it requires the necessary academic study of the references to quote and interpret.The current reality is that there are millions of unemployed who struggle making ends meet with social security and millions more of “unfit” unable to get jobs, due to the way that selection of the fittest through recruitment works. Many would love to contribute to positively to the economy.

I completely disagree that the debate is in anyway esoteric. We need to have reasons for how and why we act. Of course, cuts have to be made but they have to be justified and we need to appreciate that they will have long term consequences. The ‘current reality’ has arisen because of past decisions based on particular principles. Sorting things out means we first have to understand them.‘Philosophical debate’, as you call it, does not avoid it anything, rather it serves as a necessary prerequisite for action, otherwise you will tend to end up with the pointless and directionless government we suffered under Heath and Brown.

Peter, it’s not a question of “wanting something”. Everyone not abundantly propertied has a need to work for their living, and that need is legitimate. Are you telling me that, if a person who must either work or starve is reckoned to be surplus to economic requirements, he ought to grit his teeth, set his will in opposition to his instinct for survival and count the sixty days or so it will take him to die?

A philosophical debate is useful, for in that I would include Freedom of Association, the non-aggression axiom, consent and property rights.@Michael Petek,You are incorrect about myself and other Libertarians, but it is a common, convenient falsehood used by many.As for your living, others may assist VOLUNTARILY, you learn new things, lower your price, work for subsistence, try elsewhere.The employer is acting Amorally. Who are you or anyone else to declare how much profit they are “allowed”? The conceit. He is not stealing, he is using no force, but you want to and you call them “immoral”?

Michael, I return to my initial point: basing systems on entitlement – and need for that matter – ignores that all resources are currently owned, and so must be taken from someone to aid another. The state has no resources other than those it takes from its citizens.Of course, I do not expect people just to sit down and die and why would anyone want that to occur? However, I do not accept your view which seems to be akin to the spoilt child refusing to breathe unless they are indulged. As Tim states, there are many options an individual has before they face the fate you describe.

Ownership of the means of production, whether in industry or agriculture, is just and legitimate if it serves useful work. It becomes illegitimate, however, when it is not utilized or when it serves to impede the work of others, in an effort to gain a profit which is not the result of the overall expansion of work and the wealth of society, but rather is the result of curbing them or of illicit exploitation, speculation or the breaking of solidarity among working people. Ownership of this kind has no justification, and represents an abuse in the sight of God and man.”(Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 1991, paragraph 43)

“The obligation to earn one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow also presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, nor can that society attain social peace.”(Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 1991, paragraph 43, continued).

Michael, thanks for the quotes, but these should not be taken as knock-down arguments any more than any pronouncements Hayek might have made on theology. I think most libertarians could agree with the first quote; indeed it could be interpreted as supporting most non-Marxist positions. Your use of the second quote to justify your argument is somewhat weakened by the first 6 words and the idea of an obligation to work. You now need to tell us what this means and at what point the state is obliged to step in because a person cannot fulfil their obligation. Doesn’t the idea of an obligation justify Tim Carpenter’s point about a worker being flexible?

Peter, you raise moral issues and the Pope is as capable as anyone else of addressing them. The moral obligation to work means the obligation to engage in any meritorious and purposeful activity according to conscience. It cannot be socially enforced save where there is a job available which pays a wage realistically capable of supporting a family at a level comfortably in excess of bare subsistence. This is another point of Catholic moral teaching.If you don’t ensure that men can readily find work which will enable them to support families, then very many of them will resile from marrying and the community will be less able to reproduce itself and survive.

Michael, yes, Popes are good on morality, but not even takes a quote from them as an authority without question. Your point about moral obligation begs several questions, several of which I have asked you before. In particular who decides what is realistic, comfortable and purposeful? You have consistently refused to engage these questions. Your last sentence implies that morality is determined by economic considerations which I don’t think forms part of Catholic moral teaching. Doesn’t the Church argue that marriage has an intrinsic value?Forgive me for saying so, but your only consistency is in the confused nature of your arguments.

Moral principles alone are not specific enough to give a conclusive answer to what is realistic and comfortable in every time and place. Evidence-based research can and must supplement these.Yes,the Church does teach that marriage has an intrinsic value, and that the bond of marriage is indissoluble save by death. That is why human work must serve and support it. The trouble with secularist capitalism is that it treats human labour as a commodity, which in Catholic teaching it is not.

@Michael,People have an obligation to survive, but TO THEMSELVES. You cannot bootstrap in obligations upon others off the back of it via extrapolating “rights” from presuming society imposes the obligation. No, the person who needs to furnish the work is the entity obligating them, i.e. themselves. It is called self-responsibility.Having a “right to work” is irrational, as are most “rights”. People bandy them instead of “freedoms”. People should have the freedom to seek work or be employed and not be prevented by a third party from doing so, but the “right to work” implies an obligation upon another to furnish it, and that is coercion, and how is coercion moral?

The distinction between a right and a mere freedom is that the legislature may take away a mere liberty at will, by enacting a law useful to the common good. A right is something the legislature cannot take away at all, or else only by a law necessary to some common good, usually any of set of enumerated common goods such as public health, public order, public morals etc.The right to work, like any right, is a moral claim which is justifiably translated into a legal one because it belongs to the common good of civil society. The state can impose that duty on an employer, or it can tax the public to discharge that duty itself directly. If you don’t obey a just law you justly get coerced.

A freedom is taken away only by force (”law” or not), while a right is only granted when some law is passed. As the State gives, so it can take away, but if it takes away freedoms from non-aggressive people, even for the “common good”, it is fundamentally illegitimate.If “common good” is in conflict with a core freedom, then that “common good” is in error or a fraud. Thus, “freedom of association” trumps “right to work” hands down, no matter how many illegitimate “laws” a corrupt, dysfunctional, authoritarian bunch of gangsters posing as a government enact. Moral claims are subjective, not objective, derived from more fundamental freedoms. Religious morals came later and distorted them.

Michael, what you appear to have just said is that a liberty can be taken away by a legislature to further the common good, but a right cannot unless the legislature passes a law to further the common good, i.e in practical terms there is no difference. In any case, all legislatures can act at will, otherwise they are not, properly speaking able to legislate.In our previous posts you have explicitly defined the right to work in individualist terms but now it is a common good, which can be used to override individual rights (as you say in our first paragraph).Back to Thomism for beginners I think.

Michael, Rerum Novarum was a political polemic against the threat of socialism. It practically speaking ignores the propensity of the state itself to erect barriers to people working for themselves, which were but little understood and frankly, at the time, a “fringe” pursuit.Those barriers continue to exist today, and in many ways have been exacerbated, nor only by the corporate world’s influence over the state and its policies but also through its universal benefits systems that can and do affect peoples’ willingness to work.Eradicate those barriers, then we’ll talk about whether we still need to confiscate the property or freedom of employers, which RN also holds sacred.

No, Peter, I said that a mere liberty can be taken away by a law which is useful to the common good. A liberty which is also the object of a right can be taken away only by a law which meets the higher standard of being necessary to the common good. The common good is the ensemble of social conditions which enable individuals, groups and families to attain their legitimate goals relatively thoroughly and easily. The right to work is individually enjoyed, but its protection is a matter of the common good. So is the right to life, otherwise there could be no just law against homicide.Jock, Rerum Novarum was about the conditions of the working classes, and the Pope held them to be inhuman.

“Jock, Rerum Novarum was about the conditions of the working classes”…in the face of calls for it to be ameliorated by socialist revolution.

Michael, it would be interesting for you to define the distinguish between useful and necessary in any practical sense. In addition, I would question how you can distinguish between a liberty and a right: if the latter is not a freedom to something then what is it? And again you refuse to deal with the issue of who makes decisions: just who decides what is the common good? Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and many others thought they were very good at deciding?

Rerum Novarum was the first of what have become known as the ’social encyclicals’. It was a treatment of how the working classes were faring under liberal capitalism. Pope Leo XIII notably declared that a small number of rich men had imposed on the labouring poor a burden scarcely less heavy than that of slavery itself. But he also declared that socialism was of no use to the workers.In Divini Redemptoris (1937) Pope Pius XI stated that the State must take every measure necessary to supply employment, particularly for the heads of families and for the young. He had already repeated his condemnation of socialism in Quadragesimo Anno (1931), in terms I shall set out in my next posting.

The Pope’s definition of socialism was set out in Divini Redemptoris, in words to this effect: socialism posits as the chief end of man not the service of God, but the production for public ownership of as much material wealth as possible, as efficiently as possible. It holds that society is not natural to man, but is an artefact of human will and design for the sake of the advantages it brings.

Now, thou who art Peter, for your question. ‘Necessary’ supposes that a legislator would be politically imprudent if he did not legislate for the protection of a public interest opposable to a human right and under clear and present danger of harm. ‘Useful’ does not.The distinction between a liberty and a right is that the former is a factual condition of not being under physical, legal or moral constraint. A right is a claim which ought normally to be allowed to succeed in law. Some liberties are the object of right, others not. Some things other than liberties can also be the object of right.Next posting . .

Who decides what is the common good? The legitimate authorities in political society. If you cannot live in political society, or you are sufficient for yourself so that you do not have to, you are no part of the city and must therefore be either a beast or a god.Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot ran fiefdoms of totalitarian parties and their regimes were essentially lawless and unworthy of being referred to as states.

@Michael“So is the right to life, otherwise there could be no just law against homicide”This is non-sequitur. The Freedom from force or fraud is the basis of laws against homicide. If you have a “right to life”, this bootstraps in a right to be fed, housed, clothed and provided healthcare regardless.Also, you cannot base things on subjective terms like “just” or “common good”, let alone trample on freedoms.p.s. IIRC Hitler’s and Stalin’s regimes had laws and “rights” aplenty, but precious few freedoms.

Michael, my point about the distinction between useful and necessary is that it is absurd to believe that any politician would wish to create such a difference: political action becomes necessary because it is useful, as thinkers such as Schmitt and Strauss would argue. This is important because, as you rightly argue, it is precisely the ‘legitimate authorities’ who determine the common good Incidentally, this contradicts what you argued about the individual’s right to work above). And we really ought to remember that Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot were the legitimate authorities for as long as they survived, and gainsaying that saved no lives.

Tim Carpenter, the basis of the right to life is in the Ten Commandments, and it reads: “Thou shalt not murder.”And yes, it can bootstrap in the right to obtain the necessities of life. If a man needs to work in order to do so, then it is murder for a person to cause his death by refusing to employ him, either meaning to cause his death or knowing that it will occur in the ordinary course of events.There is nothing subjective about ‘justice’ and ‘commmon good’. These are based on objective morality. If there is no such thing as objective morality, then there is no reason for anyone to respect your liberty or anyone else’s.

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