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.

Hey, Michael, now you’re beginning to get it…(1) Yes, and also that they are monopolistic and therefore inefficient.(2) sort of: not so much the “rule of law” but the fact that a ruling group makes whatever laws it more or less pleases, and then gets (1) to enforce them. Law, or what is “just” can be “discovered” in a Common Law fashion, we don’t need “legislation”.(3) not at all: see (2) above.It strikes me that Christianity must have little confidence in its founder and the rectitude of its moral guidance if it relies on state enforcement rather than moral persuasion to uphold what is right and just.

Michael, “Thesis…”. Incorrect. That is taking one dimension and, frankly, I believe you know it. The rest of your post is therefore irrelevant. But, a) as you come to mention it, I do consider taxes for defence etc. as “necessary evils”, not “good”. It is important to keep them so labelled, as things that are “good” tend to get justification to increase, and “necessary evils” ask us to continually review and try to minimise, which is the correct stance to take IMHO, even of these things.b) your point 2 is interesting. Many laws should not be laws at all, such as on drug use. Why imprison when treatment is needed. You make my point and this is quite separate from Rule of Law.

Peter, Yes, the relation does, and I agree, not forgetting one enters into it (normally) voluntarily and directly due to personal action, NOT an obligation that is created by the personal actions of strangers.As for the Welfare State, I know the term is extreme, but I would welcome suggestions for an organisation and supporters that wishes to do what it does in the way it does. Supporters wish to have one way, no escape, punishment and ostracism for non-conformity or evasion from it. The problem we have is that people DO think, incorrectly, that the Welfare State (in terms of health and edu) is only cuddly and benign, mild. No, it is not mild. Ask a home educator if you do not believe me.

Tim, I take your point, but all the concepts we are discussing here are relative ones and so it will inevitably depend on the position we are in. One’s view of welfare depends on the viable alternatives, our knowledge of them and our experience of what we have now. Hence, it will appear, rightly or wrongly, that the status quo is normal and any change from it extreme.As a housing researcher I frequently come across, and have done for years, people on the left who talk of ‘the housing crisis’ in the UK. My response is that what is happening now in Pakistan or Darfur is a crisis: we have a little local difficulties. Isn’t your view of the welfare state the same?

Jock, no known civilised society has ever been without at least some legislation. The wicked are subject to the law by suffering its coercive power, but the virtuous and the just obey it with a good will and not because they are forced to do so. The Statute of Merton is the oldest Act of Parliament on record. By the time it was enacted the common law had come to full development. But it was only law on the basis of the King’s authority, for it was he who appointed the judges.

It’s not that Christianity has little confidence in its founder and its moral order to if it relies on state enforcement rather than moral persuasion to uphold what is right and just. The state has to do this anyway, for its own reasons.What Christianity has confidence in is the fact that very many people are personally wicked and liable to disobey just laws if they can get away with it.

Tim, you regard taxes for defence etc. as “necessary evils”, not “good”. But why are they necessary? Your unarticulated major premiss seems to be that man is not by nature Aristotle’s political animal, that left to himself he lives better outside political society than within it, or is sufficient for himself so that he has no need to. That means he must be either a beast or a god.

Where did the king derive his authority from, Michael? Oh yes, conquest, then set about monopolising “the law” as the powerful are wont to do. What a great statute to start with – one that set an example for most legislation coming after it, even to the present day – one that created privilege for the few and usurped the natural copyhold rights of the many, one which, effectively, led directly to the c17 civil war between armed enclosers (”Roundheads”) and the one king since Merton who had attempted to stop and reverse enclosures that were hurting ordinary people.Even Magna Carta was only required in reality because of the monopolisation of authority.

As Herbert Spencer quoted in The Sins of the Legislators:“from the Statute of Merton (20 Henry III) to the end of 1872, there had been passed 18,110 public Acts; of which he estimated that four-fifths had been wholly or partially repealed….We forget that before laws are abolished they have generally been inflicting evils more or less serious; some for a few years, some for tens of years, some for centuries. Change your vague idea of a bad law into a definite idea of it as an agency operating on people’s lives, and you see that it means so much of pain, so much of illness, so much of mortality.”

What’s this anti-libertarian talk of natural rights, copyhold or otherwise?

This is getting really interesting! Is a form of libertarianism tenable which is based only on voluntary acts and agreements? Or would it not be better to base libertarianism on the idea of personal responsibility in an imperfect world in which there are a multitude of social arrangements most of which predate us and so cannot ever be said to be voluntary? We need to get away from the ‘desert island’ perfectionist view. There has never not been society, obligation and therefore coercion.

Sorry, for the anonymous posting again – using a different PC. Why won’t technology take responsibility for itself?

Peter, technology won’t take responsibility for itself, because it’s libertarian and anarchic.Comme plusieurs des bloggers sur cette page!

Peter (@5/9 12:11), as you say, any change from the status quo is “extreme”, but we have to move people from it, to open their eyes. Correct naming is very important, and it has to be said that some people have a Totalitarian view of the Welfare State and act to make it so. “monopoly” does not cover it properly, for we talk of a de facto monopoly that has dissenters hounded. What word to use? I am open to suggestions!

Michael (@5/9 3:41), defending people from force or fraud is not “coercion” just as self defence is not assault. Use of “virtuous” and “just” are subjective (again).(@ 3:43) “very many people”? “wicked”? Well, doing things if they can get away with it, yes I would say that can happen, so deterrence indeed plays a part, as in the likelihood of being caught, for that is establishing consequence of ones actions, which is in line with Libertarian views on self-responsibility.

Michael (@5/9 3:48) While States abroad exist that are illiberal, we are at risk from States threatening the property rights and liberties of the citizenry. While we still have a State, that State cannot be legitimate unless it at least (and preferably only) performs protection of the citizens from threats against their freedoms from without and within. Libertarians are not isolated individuals, but against coercive/forced collectivism, as in not seeing them as “good”.

@Peter “There has never not been society, obligation and therefore coercion”One could say there has never not been slavery, but we fight that and wish to see an end to it. However, yes, we need to look at where we are now and where we can go from here, so this is why I am Minarchist, but, in knowing we should aim for better, only consider it at best a necessary evil, striving to minimise and never falling back on considering the State “good”, for that drags us back to “more good is better”, the Statist mind.

OK, last one – sorry for batch posting, I have been tied up all day.“technology won’t take responsibility for itself, because it’s libertarian and anarchic.”Then you do not understand “Libertarian”. Maybe you confuse with “libertine”.Libertarianism is, at the core, about self-responsibility and not abdication to some group.

How can you be ‘responsible’ if there is no such thing as justice except as a figment of someone’s subjective imagination?‘Responsible’ means ‘answerable to’. But answerable in terms of what? Of having done right and therefore merited a reward? Of having done wrong and therefore merited punishment?

Tim, my point is that there can never not be the state, in one form or another. If we accept that individual freedom is a social relation – hence ‘freedom from … ‘ – there must be some means of allowing this. You can refer to this as social order, if you like, but it does not negate the fact that social relations have to be embedded in some form of order for them to be operational.You suggest that ‘we have to move people’ and ‘to open their eyes’: but can we really force people to be libertarian against their will? Do we really believe that people are deluded and prey to some sort of false consciousness? How can a libertarian seriously claim to know what’s best for others?

Responsible to oneself and to others in terms of non-aggression. There is nothing subjective about not taking, not coercing, not defrauding.I said “justice”, in the form you use it, is subjective, not that there is no such thing as “justice”. As Jock rightly says, once you get monopoly power with the ability to define what is “just”, Rule of Law can often have nothing to do with it. Rule of Law is quite separate from Rule BY Laws.

Peter, I am pragmatic. Right now, there has to be a State. If and when we can do without it, then that is another issue. Can we do without it? I doubt it, for it would need an environment without external threats, but I keep an open mind.As for opening eyes, that does not mean people must change their minds or any force is involved, just that they can see alternatives and are not be automatically scared of them. Many people are brainwashed into thinking, for example, that like cannot exist without the NHS as we have it today, without State monopolies on education, without the whole apparatus of the State. They are scared of even thinking or hearing alternatives and get hostile.

You can certainly be responsible to yourself in terms of being able to judge your own actions according to conscience.But why ought conscience to be obeyed anyway?‘Justice’ is about who owes what to whom, and why.

(cont from 1:25) Further, and I am a tad surprised you can suggest such a thing, Libertarianism is not about “knowing what is best for others” as in forcing that upon people, for, under Libertarianism, people can organise into voluntary collectives or whatever they wish as long as they do not force others. It is, in fact, the ABSENCE of “knowing (forcing) what is best for others”. If I did not think it was “best” for all, I would not believe in it, but as to forcing others who do not force me? No way.

Tim, you pull me for the phrase ‘knowing what is best for others’, but if you do not believe that your ideas on the structure of society are not better than anything else, why do you subscribe to them? And how serious are they?This is an issue that has troubled me ever since I read Jan Narveson’s ‘The Libertarian Idea’ a decade or so ago. You believe it is the best, and argue for it, but if you let others then do as they will and they create a slave-based society, does that mean that libertarian is wrong or the method one sets about achieving it is wrong, or indeed might it not be both?

Peter,The term “knowing what is best” is usually tied to forcing that upon others, for most people in politics do not respect individual sovereignty and personal freedoms. They have the conceit that “they know” and then set about enforcing it, including attacking those who oppose or dissent. In fact you (accidentally?) used the term in that way, with the implication that Libertarians would force their world view upon others. I do not “know”, but I “think I know”. Do you understand the difference? I am aware of the limitations, that people may want to organise themselves in their own ways. The less State monopoly, the more space people have to do so.(cont.)

(cont.)I do believe it is better than anything else, and it is very serious.Libertarianism is not just a way, it is the absence of a single way. It is the opposite of Totalitarianism and Authoritarianism.As for slavery, that would violate the non-aggression principle and the concept of Freedom of Association (or in this case, dis-Association) and would be against the Rule of Law.

Tim, I presume you meant by your last sentence that you would force those who created a slave-based society within your libertarian framework to desist from their chosen way of social organisation. Or would you just expect them to desist when they understood the reason, sorry Reason, behind your framework? In any case, why would people not choose to follow the way you think you know is best?Also what about those who voluntarily established monopolies within your ideal framework – what would that violate? Indeed how long is the list of violations?

Tim, another point: all these principles, concepts and rules – when did libertarianism become so categorical? Not a ‘a’ but ‘the’. If you think you know might they not better be referred to as ‘possible’ concepts and ‘tentative’ rules. All these capital letters don’t exude much doubt.As for libertarianism not being ‘just a way but the absence of a single way’, this sounds rather like cod Confucianism: as the Chinese sage might have said: ‘libertarianism is the sound of only those hands clapping that want to’.

Peter,It is not their chosen way that is the point, but that they coerce and use force on others. Presuming a Minarchist State and that the social organisation was within the geographical domain, then, of course, the State steps in to maintain Rule of Law.A voluntary monopoly exists only if no other entity decides to compete. The question does not arise at the point something becomes a monopoly, but of how it creates and maintains that monopoly. If it uses force, coercion, theft, fraud etc, then it being a monopoly is not the crux, it is an organisation conducting those acts. If they try to have a monopoly and a competitor enters the field and overtakes them – tough.

“a” vs “the”. I am not the author or pedlar of a set of rules. I just use this and capitals to isolate these concepts from regular words, such as “Rule of Law” as opposed to rule of law, so to alert the reader to the fact that it is a concept (or a range of differing but similar concepts).As to clapping hands, you miss the point so let me just make it clear again – Libertarianism is the opposite of Authoritarianism and Totalitarianism. You should know what they are, and so when one wants to control, Libertarianism does not. When one pushes a single way, Libertarianism does not, and so plurality can occur.

Tim, I think you will find that many political theories will set themselves up as the opposites of totalitarianism and authoritarianism. But then is there really only one form of these? Are all the totalitarian regimes of the past identical and defined as the opposite of libertarianism?And incidentally, why should I have to know something in your libertarian utopia? Why cannot I be willfully ignorant of the true yet varied path to enlightenment you have placed before us?Re: hand clapping: I understand what you are trying to say. My point is that talking of the ‘way’ you make libertarianism sound like a hippy cult.

Peter,re Totalitarianism. I never said they were identical nor an exact opposite. Really, do I have to explain this?re: knowing. No, you do not “have” to know anything. Never said you did, nor is it a utopia – Minarchism is pragmatic, a compromise of necessary evils and not held as a preferred option by all Libertarians either. Your enlightenment is your own responsibility – nobody can do that for you.re: “the way”. There is more than one way to skin a cat. Is THAT suggesting a “hippy cult”? No.

Tim, it must be such a strain to be so misunderstood, you poor thing. Might I suggest you look up the word ‘Irony’ in a dictionary. Try p for ‘Patronising’ whilst you’ve got it open as well. Note the use of capitals to signify that these are concepts and not just words (perhaps Michael could join us for a discussion on nominalism?).My main – and serious – point is that is you are very aggressive about your libertarianism, in all its non-aggressive glory, and very definitive and what would and would not be allowed. You may not have have used the words ‘exact opposite’ but you certainly did not choose to qualify your terms.And a skinned cat is still dead, one way or another.

It isn’t a matter of ‘knowing what is best for others’ but of judging in political prudence what it is well to do for the good of all.Now, what’s the question about nominalism?

Michael, welcome back! I thought you could bring a scholastic view to our dispute over the designation of concepts by capitals, as in ‘Rule of Law’ instead of ‘rule of law’. As Richard Weaver would have it, the decline of civilisation started with William of Occam’s rejection of the universals of scholastic realism (did Roosevelt know when he planned the New Deal?). Tim would have us return to this Platonic ideal in his search for definitive concepts which allow us choose how we skin our cats.Alternatively we could talk about entitlements and the nature of welfare.

“you poor thing”Do you want to be taken seriously, Peter? Your attitude over the last few exchanges has been odd to say the least and of no credit to you. Your motive, if you have one, is unclear.In regards to reactive self-defence, I am not “aggressive”*, but assertive, and I do not apologise for it. You seem to not like that, as well as my fundamental reasons I used to explain a position which you then describe as definitive in a pejorative way. You were earlier complaining (without evidence) I was not serious. Make up your mind.* I hope you are not going to waste our time going on about my use of quotations…

Tim, forgive me if you don’t appreciate my attitude, but I find the use of irony quite effective in bringing out the contradictions of your rather evangelical attitude to what is supposed to a philosophy of liberty. There is undoubtedly an underlying intolerance in some strands of libertarian thought and it is legitimate to bring this contradiction out when you manifest it.Whether you take me seriously or not is a matter of complete indifference, and how on earth are you capable of determining what does me credit or not? I suggest you stick to debate and leave my personal development to those whom I respect.

Furthermore, Tim, why do you feel the need to control the terms of this debate? Why the need to dictate to others how they should discuss issues with you? Is your time so precious, or might it be because your arguments are rather more open to critique than you are happy with? In any case it demonstrates an intolerance to others that cannot be consistent with liberty.As to wasting your time, no one is forcing you to contribute. Changing the world is a full time job, so if you have better things to do …

Peter,It is not wise to use irony (and hypocrisy) via such media as this as it can backfire. It camInterested to know what contradictions you think you have somehow exposed by your acting in such a way. In fact you appeared to divert your energy to attack not what was being said but who was saying it and how. That is normally a clear sign of failure to land a glove.As I have already said, you are responsible for your personal development, so why continue to talk as if I am trying to be? Just because you declare not to care what others say does not give you the right to attempt to silence comment or reaction.

Further, I have no intention of controlling the terms of the debate. If anything you seem to be attempting that with your behaviour. You appear want to have your cake and eat it – talking to people in such a way, then getting all outraged and supercilious when they fail to take it totally without complaint. Fine. Now I know a little of your MO.Further, intolerance and liberty are not mutually exclusive. I am not tolerant of the intolerant, nor am I tolerant of my freedoms being impinged, nor my property taken. Was that comment more of your “irony” or is it that you need to understand more about Libertarianism?BTW Your use of pejorative terms such as evangelical are unsubstantiated.

Tim, why do you think I wish to silence you? I have no control over this blog and you know that. And making ad hominem comments is hardly an example of intellectual security. Whether you seek to control the debate or not is immaterial – I doubt if you are capable of it on the evidence of your comments so far. And please, i am in no way outraged by your little murmurings. I find your evangelicalism, and then your denial of it, rather amusing as well as a symptom of an inability to listen to others rather than seek to preach to them.Finally, to be clear and without any attempt at irony: talk about the issue in the blog or shut up!

Criticising behaviour is not ad hominem, Peter. Contrast with your “I doubt if you are capable of it” sneer – and you doubt others’ intellectual security? Oh dear.That and“Finally, to be clear and without any attempt at irony: talk about the issue in the blog or shut up!”it seems you are in need of taking your own advice, Peter. We are off topic because your odd meanderings which all seemed to kick off once I pointed out issues in your arguments or phrasing. I also note you neglect to back up your claims of inconsistency but continue in with your pugnacious (and, ironically, insecure) attitude. You appear to be exhibiting psychological projection, dear boy.So, back on topic…

The problem with using the State as the vehicle is that it is very difficult or even impossible to remove the concept of entitlement, let alone the feeling of it. A major dimension is the very fact that the State is a monopoly distributing other peoples’ money and so should not act in an arbitrary manner. It clearly cannot make its own personal decisions based on emotion or feelings and must restrain subjective, personal reactions of officers. So it lays down rules. Rules are not very good as an arbiter of attitude, behaviour and, for example, the corresponding sense of deserving or undeserving.

Tim, ‘mea culpa’, and all that. Now onwards: On your second comment, I agree with you on the difficulty of getting rid of a sense of entitlement once the state provides, but what would be interesting is to speculate on whether state provision necessarily leads to a culture of entitlement, or whether state involvement derives as a result of the culture already being there, which therefore offers an incentive to a certain type of political organisation. I would also state that once the culture is present it doesn’t much matter what rules the state might use to allocate resources.

OK.I suspect there is latent but dormant sense in the nature of mankind. It appears to have grown just as any other positive feedback loop does. Slowly at first, then as each new benefit is added the sense grows and the expectation and demand for more, ruthlessly exploited by those building a client state.The creation of across the board, universal benefits and the ever more pervasive nature of the State have exacerbated it IMHO. Before, benefits needed to be applied for. With the NHS, one was “born with the right”, before, the State was hardly involved, now it is hard to avoid it.

So you have the latent force in Mankind, the desire to exploit it by certain groups and the difficulty for the State to operate without creating legal entitlements when it “tries to help people”.When you have help via true charity, there is no legal entitlement, plus the subconscious knowledge that if you misbehave, get greedy or upset your benefactors, the flow may dry up.Thus, for me the route appears to be to end State entitlement and so return it to a true, consensual charitable situation, attenuating the feedback loop by a very significant degree.However, getting from here to there is not straightforward. Proxies such as insurance may have merit.

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