In which I disagree with Suzanne Moore

but protein and decent vegetables are beyond a food stamp budget. You cannot lecture people about healthy diets when fresh produce is so expensive.

What?

Sure, out of season strawberries are expensive but basic decent fresh food which you then prepare yourself is vastly cheaper than supermarket Shergar lasagne.

As John B regularly says, it\’s entirely possible, even in the most austere food desert in the country, to make a nourishing, tasty, filling meal out of fresh ingredients for £1 a head.

Piss easy in fact.

79 thoughts on “In which I disagree with Suzanne Moore”

  1. Well you can. It’s not easy, but you can. I did it a while ago just to prove the point when there was a “live on a pound a day for a week” thing in the Grauniad and I’d read this article by some middle class pillock who’d spent his budget on sandwich ham on day one.

    Mind you, I’d be inclined to go with the processed, because one easy and filling pound meal is a pound of Basics sausages and Basics oven chips, which is a lot easier than all that “cookery” nonsense.

    Anyway. The basics thrust of the argument is sound. Are they actually going to introduce American-style food stamps? That’s repellent, for the reasons the article says. Worth noting the usual conjunction of nastiness and puritanism; it’s so you can’t spend benefits on “sinful” products (that might alleviate the misery a little).

    The problem really is that we’re only offered by our beloved leaders two explanations for unemployment and poverty. One mob say it’s caused by “unfettered capitalism” and the like, and that isn’t true. And the other mob say it’s caused by poor people themselves, and that isn’t true either. So “solutions” are always based on one of those paradigms, and neither works, so they just go back and forth getting worse each time.

  2. This is the only way to eliminate hunger and get rid of the need for food banks. It’s odd that people who focus on how terrible it is that people can make bad decisions for themselves shy away from the inevitable consequence of their own politics.

  3. Two things here.

    I often read and hear (on the radio) about the evil Big Food industry which makes it impossible for poor people to do anything by eat frozen pies and pizzas, but to get to these in most supermarkets you have to walk past the fresh fruit and veg. That’s assuming you use supermarkets; most towns now have little (or large) Indian shops where you can buy fruit and veg at almost wholesale prices.

    The second thing is, there is nothing ‘repellent’ about saying to people, sure I’ll give you some money because you’re down on your luck right now, but it’s on these terms, and my terms are: you don’t spend it on fags, booze and terrible processed food which will only lead to you making greater demands on my wallet in a few years’ time.

    The dole is not meant to sustain your for a long period of time, or give you a standard of living equivalent to that of people who work 40 hours a week (or more). It’s there to keep you going while you find something more productive to do with your time.

    It really is not – to me at least – about things being ‘sinful’, it’s about economics.

  4. Interested, your last sentence is entirely at odds with the rest of our post. Of course it’s about sin, which is why the taxes on those products are referred to as “sin taxes”. The idea that benefits should be used as lifestyle correctives, and that that will have any measurable effect on the cost of the health service is bizarre.

    What you’re really saying is just that being on the dole ought to be as grim as possible. And to do that, you would tell a man who has paid his taxes for say twenty years that now he’s on the dole, he has to give up smoking, thus immiserating him for no purpose other than to satisfy a vicious puritan urge.

    I am going to have to say again that taxpayers and benefits recipients are not separate classes of people. Yes, some people are lifetime claimants. But the basic principle is that you pay high taxes when you’re working and in return get benefits when you’re unlucky enough to lose your job; i.e. it’s not just “your” wallet, it’s everyone’s wallet.

    It’s also a good time to note that, as a taxpayer, the government are going to give 50 billions of my hard earned productive income to pay interest to banks on unnecessary loans, but strangely when I suggest stopping *that* benefit, or at least making life a bit harder for *those* benefits claimants, everyone gets upset. Hey ho.

  5. Surreptitious Evil

    as a taxpayer, the government are going to give 50 billions of my hard earned productive income

    The artistic porn business pays well then. Oh, you meant “our”?

    to pay interest to banks on unnecessary loans

    I still fail to see why the IanB interpretation of Austrian economics has to be accepted without any justification, evidence or actual analysis of any proposal beyond “I, Ian, believe this is wrong, that it is simple to stop it and the world will be much better thereafter.”

  6. IanB, I don’t call them sin taxes, and I can’t be held responsible for lazy tabloid headlines.

    Benefits *are* lifestyle correctives, whether you like it or not: they correct the likelihood of the unemployed otherwise starving to death (or relying on charity).

    If you are saying that a large amount of benefit money is not spent on fags, booze and crap food, and that this has no effect on health budgets, then I cannot agree with you.

    I’m not “really saying” anything other than what I actually said. Being unemployed can obviously be horrendous, depressing and enervating. I don’t want to make it any worse for anyone than it is – why would I?

    You introduce the 20 year man, and I have some sympathy with that argument. However, it doesn’t alter the fact that it costs money to treat illnesses caused by eating terrible food and smoking and drinking to excess, and that a lot of benefit money is spent on these things. Thus, working people – including the 20-year man when he was working – pay twice, the money being extracted by force.

    Your “basic principle is that you pay high taxes when you’re working and in return get benefits when you’re unlucky enough to lose your job” is just one that I do not accept; my basic principle would be that you pay high taxes when you’re working and in return get benefits, with strings attached, when you’re unlucky enough to lose your job.

    Re the banks, I agree entirely, but in any event because policy A is wrong that does not mean that wrong policy B should be adopted.

    (As it happens, I don’t think any unemployment benefit should be paid out until you have worked for a given period, as happens elsewhere.)

  7. Well, that’s probably because you haven’t thought much about it. Frances Coppola and I had an interesting discussion here about this a while ago. I’m surprised you didn’t read it.

    Comes down to this; once upon a time, money was gold, and you can’t create gold from nothing. And a bad king wanted to have a war, and he said to the keeper of the gold, “let me have some gold from the store room, so that I can pay my army”, and the keeper said, “My liege, there is no gold in the store room, there are only some pennies and a box full of luncheon vouchers”.

    So the bad king needed some gold, and he knew that the money lenders had some gold, and so he went to the money lenders and said, “I need some gold”, and they said, “well, we will lend you it. At 8% interest”. And the bad king said, “that’s okay, the taxpayers will pay you back. Send the gold round to the palace”.

    And that boys and girls is how central banking was invented.

    But nowadays money is not gold. It is not a commodity at all. So the king can never run out of gold. So, kings good or bad never need to borrow it. But, there is a very big debt now. And, if the king stops borrowing imaginary gold, the money lenders will get upset and call in the debt and do other nasty things.

    This is known as an abusive relationship.

    Seriouly. Government has the money creation power. It is simply time to start using it. Only a crazy man would borrow at interest what he can create himself at no cost. And, considering that the debt money system is now in permanent failure mode, there couldn’t be a better time.

    Money isn’t gold any more.

  8. Interested, I’m not sure if you realise this, but your argument applies equally to workers as to the unemployed. I can only conclude therefore that you want a Big Nanny State that stops us eating tasty food and having a beer, in which case, there is no argument I can make against you. Except that tiresome old “freedom” one which I daresay would just bounce off, as it does with puritans generally.

    “Crap food”. I mean, seriously. Keep your interfering hands off my chips.

    Also, you may not accept my view, but bear in mind that Attlee’s major justification for State welfare was to remove the “strings attached” of private charity. It’s pretty much the fundamental basis of the welfare state.

  9. It is odd that a system cannot provide adequate cover to someone who would have contributed to it 20 years.

  10. “Attlee’s major justification for State welfare was to remove the “strings attached” of private charity. It’s pretty much the fundamental basis of the welfare state.”

    I did not know that, and it rather explains why it went all tits up.

  11. Bear in mind that a major slice of the benefits budget is housing benefit, which is directly proportional to property prices, which have been deliberately and grotesquely inflated since the 1970s, in one of the most blatant poor to rich transfers perpetrated in our history. See Reed, Wadsworth et al 🙂

    Nobody seems eager to apply a corrective to that though, curiously.

  12. Surreptitious Evil

    Hopes I gets the HTML right. We really could do with a preview button, you know, TIM.

    Well, that’s probably because you haven’t thought much about it.

    Ah, because I haven’t come up with the same answers you read in a book somewhere, I can’t have thought about things. Okay.

    And that boys and girls is how central banking was invented.

    No, that’s not. Central banking, that is. Banking, yes, but not central banking

    Government has the money creation power.

    It pretty much always has. Gresham’s Law was known to the ancient Greeks. Back when money was gold (or, as is the point of the law, gold-ish.)

    It is simply time to start using it.

    What really concerns me about you is your willful refusal to consider that there might, just might, be some adverse consequences for society from your oh-so-simple solution.

    Worse, you might very well know there will be and are chuckling quietly to yourself in the knowledge that you can calmly revert to producing tasteful etchings for the dissolute amongst whatever privileged class emerges.

  13. IanB, I am not a puritan, I don’t want a nanny state and I drink beer; the rather obvious difference is that it’s bought with my money.

    I mean, I wouldn’t start from here – I would not have an NHS and that alone would make people more responsible for their actions. As it is, I am responsible for the actions of others.

    You might be happy with this. That’s your choice.

  14. SE

    I think most of my readers are pretty ordinary, actually. But hey ho.

    You keep saying there will be all these adverse consequences of taxes not being spent on interest, but never say what they are. I think you don’t really know. You’re just presuming that something terrible would happen if you changed the system, the same sort of mindset as “you can’t privatise things, there’ll be a disaster”.

    Also, you might like to bear in mind two things. Firstly, hardly anyone has truly original ideas. We all got our ideas from various sources, including books. I bet even you did.

    And secondly, that most Austrians are huge fans of the gold standard and, even better, commodity gold money and want to go back to one or the other. So I’m not being very “got it from a book standard Austrian” in that regard at all.

  15. Also, SE, my fairy tale story about central banking described in simplistic terms the creation of the Bank Of England, hence the 8% reference.

  16. Surreptitious Evil

    I think most of my readers are pretty ordinary, actually.

    That’s the point. You’ll find yourself shifting down-volume and up-market in an economic collapse.

    You keep saying there will be all these adverse consequences of taxes not being spent on interest, but never say what they are

    What happens to the people who have money invested, quite possibly without their knowledge, in the bond markets? Or pensioners who have been forced to buy annuities? What happens when the banks, let’s be honest, who have been pretty much forced to invest in government bonds are holding worthless paper.

    Hmm. Where have we recently seen a bit of trouble because banks are left holding worthless assets because governments have renegaded on their liabilities? Legally, of course – the structure of the bonds allowing that. After a few tweaks to the legal framework. There’s a largish island in the Eastern Med that springs to mind.

    So I’m not being very “got it from a book standard Austrian” in that regard at all.

    As you, yourself, said, last time we bored the assembled populace silly with this discussion, “this is pretty much standard Austrian”. So we’re discussing your wish for governments tear up the bond system, not anybody-else’s attitudes to commodity-based money (gold or otherwise.)

  17. I think the “standard Austrian” part was pertaining to the analysis of inflation and stuff; point it, my preferred solution is not standard, since I think a return to the gold standard is neither feasible nor particularly desirable. A gold standard is a waystation to fiat; by that point people think “the money” is the promisory notes and nobody is paying in gold any more. The commodity basis is already lost. Better to embrace that than bemoan it.

    As to your negative consequences, I agree. Transitions are difficult. As such, though, it would be a matter of management through the transition. It would be a major restructuring. You don’t just go “we’re closing the Bank Of England on monday”.

    I’m not going to offer a particular strategy to deal with that transition; they range from literally just pulling the plug, to converting bonds to bills, etc. I believe Milton Friedman recommended (at least at one point) creating a new currency and paying off the debt with it. All have pros and cons. The questions of what we should do and how we should do it are different things, like “we must go to war” and “how do we fight the war?”.

    But I will use the example of the reforms of the 80s. We could have said that we cannot let the coal mines close because so many depend on them for employment and income. That would be the same argument; we dare not make the transition because it is too ruptive. But we did.

    In other words, we would have to bodge through the transition on the basis of pragmatism. But the question at this stage is whether condition B is better than condition A. Considering that condition A is now in failure mode- as the nationalised industries were- we have to consider that.

    Like nationalisation, the bond/central bank/debt money system is a bad idea that once seemed like a good idea. Nobody even chose it in fact, we started in one place and drifted to where we are via a series of stages. Gold turned to gold standard to Bretton Woods to fiat, and here we are, with systemic dysfunction and the system only keeping going due to ever more intense State backing. How much QE is it now?

    So I am saying it is time to say, “we cannot go on like this” and look at the fundamental system problems, instead of kicking the can down the road to an ever worse place. We cannot keep shredding the economy to keep a system going which just because, as with that nationalised industries, many people are dependent on it.

  18. Surreptitious Evil

    I’m not going to offer a particular strategy to deal with that transition

    At which point, all the above is mere rhetoric.

    And your analogy is less than complete. A more honest one would have been to posit Thatcher allowing the grid to go flat so as to deal with the NUM.

    As I said, several variants of this ago – it is just a restatement of the “Irish directions” meme. If you want to go there, you wouldn’t start from here.

    Although, as I’m positing giving His Imperial Trotness Seymour a country to run (in to ruin) on the other thread, I’ll magnanimously give you one as well – you (or whoever you pick to run it – I’ll not make the mistake of accusing you of ambition again, even in humour) will certainly do better than he will.

  19. SE, saying that there are two questions- what we should do and how we should do it- does not render anything as mere “rhetoric”. You know full well that dealing with such a transition would be a complex issue, and require coordination with everyone affected. There isn’t a simple comment-box ready answer to your demand; thus you can safely dismiss it and demand we carry on doing the stupid thing, because the less stupid thing is “mere rhetoric”.

    And I’m getting rather tired of the rehashing of this “Irish directions joke” because it doesn’t even apply. I am not saying (in terms of the joke) “I wouldn’t start from here”. I am saying “I would rather drive somewhere else”.

    We are in the wrong place. That is the first thing you need to recognise; then you find out how to get to where you want to be.

    Goddammit, the “crash” was five years ago and the economy is still up-buggered. How much longer do you want to test this thing to destruction because some guy on the internet hasn’t hand crafted a beautiful roadmap? Are you going to sit there in your car declaring that here is The Best Place To Be until you starve to death, presuming that anywhere else must be worse?

  20. Surreptitious Evil

    I am not saying (in terms of the joke) “I wouldn’t start from here”

    Of course not. I am. You are the person demanding a nice easy route to your ideal destination.

    Are you going to sit there in your car declaring that here is The Best Place To Be until you starve to death, presuming that anywhere else must be worse?

    Nope. You’re in the car, with a map of Austria, trying to navigate Donegal. I’ve got my lunch and I know a nice pub just down the road too.

    Jeez but are we off topic …

  21. The problem is, somebody else was forced to give you their lunch, they’re going to be forced to give you their lunch tomorrow too, and your justification for this is that if somebody stops the lunch-jacking system, you’ll go hungry, so we’d better keep it going then.

  22. Ian B,

    Bear in mind that a major slice of the benefits budget is housing benefit, which is directly proportional to property prices, which have been deliberately and grotesquely inflated since the 1970s, in one of the most blatant poor to rich transfers perpetrated in our history. See Reed, Wadsworth et al.

    If you want to save the state money, scrapping housing benefit as a variable cost and capping it based on the average UK house price would be a start. Half the £20bn housing benefit budget is spent in London, so capping it at Northampton prices would see a reduction of billions of pounds. Far more than the savings from stopping a few chavs spending all their benefits on booze.

  23. @ Interested

    It’s worth, I think, making the point that people who live non-puritan-approved lifestyles cost you, as a taxpayer, less than the people who shun the various demons (drink, fags, et al).

    The whole business about ‘unhealthy lifestyles’ costing the NHS money is bullshit designed to justify tax/nannying. It’s old people that cost the NHS all the money, and they cost a fortune in pensions and benefits too. People who die younger are as cheap as the chips that you seem to want to take from them.

  24. food stamps, benefit cards, etc are all wongly well-intentioned. In that they provide an answer to the problem that goes:

    – I don’t think the taxpayer should give money to the indolent and delinquent to spend on crack and Lambert & Scutler; but

    – I don’t think the kids of the indolent and delinquent should be penalised for their parents’ bad choices; and

    – I don’t think that the state makes a good parent.

    There are lots of things wrong with the policy and it won’t work. But I’ll give them marks for trying to solve that one.

  25. TTG re old people, you’re right – to an extent.

    But today’s 90 year olds didn’t suffer from too much diet-related diabetes – to name but one relevant condition which is on the increase, is costly, affects the young and is largely diet related. Let’s see where we are in 10 years, and 20.

    I don’t want to take anyone’s chips away; I would recommend they have kebab meat and hot sauce too, it’s the food of the gods after a night out.

    I just think they should pay for their own (and their own healthcare) because it is an *indisputable fact* that cramming chips into your face will eventually make you poorly, and then you’ll expect me to pay for that, too.

    Happy to help you keep a roof over your head, your kids fed and leccy paid.

    This is not a Puritan thing. I like chips, and beer, and cocaine, amphetamines, mushrooms, acid and dope, and loud music, and filthy women, and all the other things that are bad for you but great. I have no objection whatsoever to people buying any of these things with their own cash, in fact I recommend it*. They are at least part of the reason why I work.

    *though as we are reminded recently, PaulB’s dead mate (he mixed drugs and scaffolding, never a good idea) would advise us against some things on that list, and Paul would ban them.

  26. Sam, I’m really not sure how you make the leap (which the word “but” implies) that stopping giving “money to the indolent and delinquent to spend on crack and Lambert & Scutler” will penalise “the kids of the indolent and delinquent”?

  27. Interested :
    But today’s 90 year olds didn’t suffer from too much diet-related diabetes – to name but one relevant condition which is on the increase

    Diabetes is something that most elderly people have to some degree and there are more oldies about, younger people with diabetes probably won’t make it to 90. Actually there is apparently now evidence that some at least of those with type 2 Diabetes do in fact have late onset type 1. If it turns out that the number is significant that will be another thing that wasn’t quite the scare it was made out to be. Diabetes is one of those conditions – there are a lot of them – which now costs more simply because we can treat it whereas before they killed you, lifestyle is, if not entirely irrelevant, a lesser factor.

  28. @Thornavis, I meant (though I should have said) that they didn’t suffer from diabetes in their 30s and 40s.

    The point you make about treatment is fair, though it also makes my point (as long as you accept – and if you don’t I’d be interested as to why not? – that a lot more younger people are now suffering from diabetes than [say] was the case 60 years ago): yes, we can treat diabetes and we will, and that costs tax money, in our current system.

    To an extent, of course, that is a side effect of living in 2013 UK, and I wouldn’t want to live in 1953 Britain, but to pretend that people eating Big Macs for breakfast is irrelevant, or that this isn’t more common among those who do it with other people’s cash, or that it doesn’t have a knock on effect on NHS costs, is strange.

  29. @ #26 TTG
    No, it’s old people who cost NHS most of the money – it is those in the last year of their life, at whatever age, because they needs lots more medical care than their healthy contemporaries. You’ve read a comment by someone whose tried to over-simplify. The second largest cost is maternity now that it has become almost compulsory to give birth in hospital.
    Young people with unhealthy lifestyles cost the NHS more than healthy old puritans. If you don’t believe go and check out the data for yourself.
    Elderly people with Alzheimers are a relatively high cost to the Social services budget but since the total Social Services budget, of which care for children comprises a majority, is less than one-quarter of the NHS budget, their cost cannot be significant relative to the total cost of the NHS.

  30. Getting back to the original point, most fresh fruit and vegetable cost pennies. So does a small loaf (even a decent one from my independent local baker); so do eggs (highly recommended source of protein) or a meal’s-worth of sausages. A decent-sized herring costs less than £1. Steak is expensive but belly pork and neck of lamb are nearly as cheap as sausages. [I am sufficiently well-off not to know how much battery chicken costs.]
    Ian B immediately changes Tim’s £1 a meal into £1 a day, which is more than twice as hard, and says that is possible.
    So what are we to suppose: that Suzanne Moore lives on a diet of fillet steak, sweet potato and petit pois alternating with monkfish or lobster accompanied by mangetout and artichokes? Or that she is making it up?

  31. Interested

    I don’t actually know if more young people are suffering from type 2 diabetes or whether it’s better diagnosed, it’s also important here to distinguish between types 1 and 2. Type 1 is an auto-immune condition and I do know that better diagnoses and opportunities for treatment are significant factors in the number of people, not just the young, being treated for other auto-immune conditions, most of which have no connection at all with lifestyle.
    I don’t know either that it is more common for people in receipt of benefits to eat Big Macs for breakfast and would that be any worse than a full English ? I also don’t know that the cost to the NHS from poor diets is significantly greater proportionately amongst such people than from the rest of us, do you have figures ?

  32. Further to that. Even type 2 has a genetic input, predisposition is important, consequently the approach of blaming increased NHS costs on fatties on benefits which some people have is simplistic to say the least.

  33. Thornavis – I was using shorthand, this being a blog comments feed and not a dissertation.

    For ‘Big Mac’ read carbohydrate and fat rich junk food, which is much worse for you than a decent full English but probably not worse than a bad one.

    Carbohydrate and fat rich junk food diets are causal factors in obesity (among other problems).

    Obesity is more common in the poor as is junk food consumption (lots of studies, look at BMJ open, or go to poor and wealthy areas, count the fast food joints, look at the people, and work it out).

    I understand the difference between the types.

    Type 2 is typically diagnosed after 40 but is on the increase in younger people from all ethnic groups and is now seen in children as young as seven (http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Diabetes-type2/Pages/Causes.aspx).

    Since they are not over 40 and cannot change race (though this is taken care of above anyway) and are not suddenly developing a genetic predisposition we must assume it’s the lard.

    Once again, I don’t want to stop anyone getting fat or eating Big Macs; I just wonder if we shouldn’t ask that they pay for it out of their own, earned income.

  34. IanB (and others)

    To convince me I’m wrong, and I’m not as sure I’m right as I might seem:

    Where do you stand on benefit money, paid to parents, being used to buy crack?

    I assume the logic of your position, which seems to be that attaching any strings is fascist, is that it’s entirely their affair, as it would be if they were merchant bankers or bus drivers who earned their wedge?

    If you say it’s wrong because crack is illegal, where does your anti prohibition stance fit in to that?

    If you say it’s wrong because crack is bad for you, and any parent who spends any money on crack before spending it on food for their kids is wrong, what is the qualitative difference, given that fags and chips are certainly bad for you, between spending your dole on B&H or a rock?

    If you employ people, or are employed, do you expect to attach, or accept, any strings to the payment or receipt of that money for that employment?

    If so, is the attachment of strings in return for money only appropriate, or non-repellent, when the person receiving the money works for the money? (This seems odd.)

    Is it wrong to make any judgments at all about people and their behaviour?

  35. I just wonder if we shouldnt ask that they pay for it out of their own, earned income.

    Well of course we’d prefer that, but we have to start from the basis that if they’re on UB, they haven’t got an income, but we hope they will have later on.

    You see, I think all this about health and diabetes is a red herring. You’re singling out these sins because you’d prefer that unemployed people be immiserated. You complain about “paying for it”, but the fact is, changing what they can spend the benefit on isn’t going to save you a penny. So there’s no use to it. Except to satisfy a desire for people on benefits to deprived of small pleasures.

    And I think we should add another point; the Daily Fail stereotype professional dole claimant is going to find ways around any such sin-ban. The people it’ll hit are the unexpectedly unemployed former worker, who suddenly finds that not only has he no job, he now can’t even have a fag either. It is really tiresome, this idea that there are two distinct classes “hard working taxpayers” and “permanently unemployed scroungers” and nothing in between. People lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and then need benefits. This really does happen. What the hell have you got against them?

  36. And while I was posting that, and ironically mentioned the Daily Mail…

    Interested, where did you get this “crack” argument? Was it the Mail? It’s the standard kind of argument-from-extremes you find there. Because prior to that, we were talking about ciggies, beer and food that you and your friends in the Bankers Christian Temperance Union define as “contains a bit too much fat which might lead eventually to health problems”.

    Where the fuck did the crack cocaine come from?

  37. Thornavis – I was using shorthand, this being a blog comments feed and not a dissertation.

    For ‘Big Mac’ read carbohydrate and fat rich junk food, which is much worse for you than a decent full English but probably not worse than a bad one.

    The trouble with that is that Big Mac has become a shorthand term of distaste for just about every aspect of modern life amongst all and sundry, never has an item of food been so loaded with social disapproval. I’d be interested to know the difference between a good and bad Full English, for someone who denies any taint of puritanism you do use a lot of morally judgmental language.

    As for obesity, in itself it is not necessarily the problem, certainly it makes diabetes more likely if there is a genetic predisposition to develop it but as regards the increase in the young of that condition the same thing is happening with asthma and other allergies, is that due to diet or obesity ? No one really knows. We could discuss that all night but really it’s not what I’m concerned about. My problem is that I cannot see how anyone can sort out all the variables in diet, income, class, age etc and decide that those on benefits should be held more responsible for the cost of their NHS treatment than anyone else.

  38. I’ve explained to you in black and white that I have nothing against “them”, whoever they are.

    You seem to think there is one single lump of unemployed people, but this is nonsense.

    There are short term unemployed, who are basically tax payers who are between jobs, and there are long term unemployed, many of whom have never worked.

    I don’t believe that it’s sensible to give people money to spend on rubbish that makes them ill; the short term unemployed will soon be back in work, and, in the case of the long term unemployed, if they want that rubbish so badly perhaps they’ll get a job. There are always jobs.

    I’ve also explained that the way “they” spend their money has long term effects way beyond their own waistlines. If you think the country can go on spending the money it does on the dole and the NHS then you have been reading different charts to me.

    The fact that a perfect world is not possible does not mean it is not worth making changes.

    I wonder if your strange anger on this issue is related to your own perhaps slightly insecure work?

  39. The crack argument was an attempt to get you to understand. But it’s also a real example. Crack exists, unemployed people take it, using their dole money to buy it. What is your view on that?

  40. Thornavis, I really was just using it as a shorthand – two three letter words. I like McDonalds as a business, I think burger flipping is a perfectly noble way for a young kid to earn a living, and their burgers are not all that bad.

    You introduced he full English argument, but, since you ask, a good full English to me it would be decent grilled bacon, decent grilled sausage, grilled kidney, tomato, mushroom, egg, Heinz beans. Heavy on the protein, but some fibre, some vitamins etc.

    A bad one would be poor quality ingredients as per the above, without the mushroom and tomato I guess.

    I don’t think it’s controversial to say one is better than the other?

  41. Well, Interested, suppose some dole claimant is stabbing himself repeatedly in the eye with a fork. What is your view on that?

    Not relevant? No, neither is bleedin’ crack cocaine either. Get back to justifying your Big Mac ban.

  42. @Thornavis “My problem is that I cannot see how anyone can sort out all the variables in diet, income, class, age etc and decide that those on benefits should be held more responsible for the cost of their NHS treatment than anyone else”

    I’m not actually suggesting holding anyone responsible, I’m simply saying that it incontrovertibly costs more to treat poorer, fatter people, and that a lot of what makes those poorer people fatter is the way they spend their dole.

    I’m also saying this cannot, in an economic sense, continue. If it can’t continue, it won’t.

  43. Ian, you really can’t argue, can you?

    I suspect you are one paycheque away from the dole, and it niggles you. But you shouldn’t take it personally.

  44. “There are always jobs.”

    lolz. Seen the economy lately? I mean, you do realise that unemployed people are looking for jobs provided by others, right? Unemployment is currently about 2.5M. I appreciate that there might be 2.5M vacant employment opportunities out there, but I’m going to take some convincing, I warn you.

    (NB, doesn’t include many others defined as unfit for work).

  45. Much as I hate to intrude, Interested gives you a real world example IanB – people on the dole do take crack – and you respond with what if they stab themselves in the eye? Hmmm…

  46. Interested,

    I daresay I’m at greater risk than you, which focusses the mind somewhat, I agree. But this comes back to things discussed before (Bloke In Spain made some good points in the fridge thread) that people used to a well-off, well-connected social network which acts itself as a kind of safety net can’t really grasp what it’s like to not have a friend with a Volvo estate who can shift a fridge for you.

    So yes, it does “niggle” me that, should I find myself in that situation, some cunt will be preventing me spending a little of my dole on ciggies, purely for his own vindictive amusement. While coining it in working in an industry that has a constant entitlement to State support.

    Maybe we ought to ban bankers from buying cocaine. Strings, and all that.

  47. Carlos, the point was maybe too subtle (not my usual problem). It was that taking crack is self harm, and so is stabbing yourself in the eye, and thus is not a “dole” issue. I’d prefer nobody took crack cocaine, regardless of their income, and if they’re doing it on the dole, that is besides the point.

  48. Then it ought to focus your mind less on whether you’ll be allowed to buy ciggies and more on whether current spending on welfare and the NHS is in any way sustainable, and if it isn’t what might be a sensible way of reducing it.

    Never argue from the personal or from fear, and you’re clearly doing both.

    I’m not a banker, but I wouldn’t ban bankers from buying coke, no. I would like to see a lot more of those responsible for stupid mistakes and outright fraud removed from their jobs, though, and that would have your desired effect.

  49. I thought the point was that they were (in the example) parents?

    The other difference is that crack costs money which could be used on food or clothes etc, whereas stabbing yourself in the eye is just…weird.

    No, it was a strange and illogical reply.

  50. Ah, okay, I walked into your trap. You can now dismiss my every argument as “from fear”.

    But, I’m a libertarian. Everything I say is from fear. Fear of unbridled State power. Fear of dangerous incursions on liberty. Fear is a good motivation. People who fear things try to stop them happening. Better by far than to fearlessly follow the rest of the lemmings over the edge.

  51. Interested:
    I’m not actually suggesting holding anyone responsible, I’m simply saying that it incontrovertibly costs more to treat poorer, fatter people, and that a lot of what makes those poorer people fatter is the way they spend their dole.

    But does it though. I don’t really want to get anecdotal but the reason I’m interested in this is that I have an autoimmune condition myself – not diabetes – and have probably cost the NHS a sizeable sum over the past forty years. Not only that but I spent a large part of my working life in the public sector, my wages came to a large extent from other people’s taxes, does all that cost less than some fat bloke on the dole with diabetes or heart disease ? There are so many patients like me that picking up on a relatively small number of benefits claimants who misspend their dosh and get ill as a result is really quite pointless.

  52. Carlos, no, the point was that Interested was trying to get out of the absurdity of moralising about “crap food” by leaping into the extreme.

  53. I must also admit to a significant level of surprise that we’ve got to 60 comments and nobody’s yet hauled out the “flat screen television” cliche.

  54. I’m not sure how you arrive there? It was pretty clear to me! I think you were the one who went extreme instead of answering the question…

  55. @Thornavis, apples and oranges. What job did or do you do in the public sector? It’s really not just a few people, is it? But I agree, in the scheme of things, that there is plenty more waste and mismanagement to go at.

  56. Interested: I’d be grateful if you would drop the story about the scaffolding. There are people who loved the guy, perhaps one day they’ll search the internet for the story, I don’t want it turning up as some sort of a joke. I’m genuinely sorry I ever mentioned it. OK?

    My views on recreational drugs are more liberal than the government’s, but less liberal than yours. You could just say that whenever you think it important to chide me for it.

  57. I suspect that the bottom line is that it’s possible to buy healthy ingredients at a very low price at the major supermarkets but not at the kind of organic, fair-trade artisan shops that the likes of Suzanne Moore would patronise. I’ve no doubt that everything is terribly expensive in the gilded world of Guardian columnists.

    Of course, we have to consider the rising price of gas and electricity due to the insane green policies of the current government. At some point the overall cost of cooking a meal from raw ingredients may become higher than the cost of heating a ready-meal in a microwave or ordering a take-away. Anyone know how to make the calculations?

  58. So Much For Subtlety

    Ian B – “What you’re really saying is just that being on the dole ought to be as grim as possible. And to do that, you would tell a man who has paid his taxes for say twenty years that now he’s on the dole, he has to give up smoking, thus immiserating him for no purpose other than to satisfy a vicious puritan urge.”

    Well I definitely have a grim puritan urge and I don’t think that is a bad thing. And yes, I do think that the dole should be miserable, but if Ian does not like grim Puritan arguments, there is of course a perfectly good economic one.

    The Isle of Man recently, allegedly, banned smoking in their prisons. Something I would normally object to. But they saw a massive (and again I point out allegedly) drop in crime. Thus in this case the grim puritans seem to have won the argument. Prison is bad. Crime is bad. Bans on smoking are bad. But the last one causes the first two to drop. Therefore prisoners should not smoke. End of story.

    In the same way, benefits are a positive evil. They make the country worse. We have a lot of people on benefits. We, and they, would be better off if they were in work and not on benefits. Obviously benefits are too attractive and hence we have too many of the long term unmployed. We can’t cut benefits because we don’t want their feral little psychopathic offspring to starve in the streets. For various definitions of “we”. So we are slowly working towards a system that harasses them off benefits. And it seems to work. But this is stupid and it punishes the stupid because they can’t fill out their forms properly and so get sanctioned.

    It would be much better to make benefits a lot less attractive by refusing to allow people on them to smoke or drink too much. That would reduce the appeal without starving anyone. It may even improve their health although that is largely irrelevant.

    There is no downside to this at all. It is making them more miserable, but it is in the interests of making them better off in the long run, as well as reducing crime, drug use and all the other fun features of the underclass as well as exercising my puritan instincts. So it is really a win-win for everyone.

    “I am going to have to say again that taxpayers and benefits recipients are not separate classes of people.”

    Yes they are. Increasingly so in fact. There is also an increasing racial gap as well – benefits go to a more and more racially divided community. While some middle class children take a “gap year” on the dole, in fact there are strong class and ethnic factors in welfare.

    Which means your tax payer of 20 years is largely mythical except in so far that a lot of 50 year old working class men go on disability, especially up north, and so retire early.

  59. SMFS-

    Whenever anti-smoker legislation is brought in, you will always have some remarkable statistic produced that proves it has had a glorious effect, and which is invariably bollocks. A good example was the “heart attack reduction miracles” after comprehensive smoking bans, all of which proved to be statistical tompokery.

    There is no downside to this at all.

    Well yes there is. It’s that you’re being a cunt. The downside is that you’re immiserating other people, for your own enjoyment. Which is pretty much a summation of puritanism.

    You see, I understand that you have this Manichean view; there are good beautiful people and bad ugly people (the “underclass”) and nobody in between. Nobody works hard, loses their job for a bit, needs a few weeks or months of dole, gets back on their feet. There are only the Good People, being sponged off by the Bad People, and that’s all there is.

    This does derive, literally, from Puritanism; not metaphorically but literally. It is the Calvinist dichotomy between the saved and the unsaved, the Elect and the Reprobates. And it continues to be a primary driving force in the worldview of our society. Which is a large part of the reason it has turned into a shithole. Because the self-defined Elect can’t stop meddling. Political Correctness? Latest manifestation. On and on it goes. Your “win-win” puritanism is why we’re in a mess.

    And.

    The other characteristic of Puritan statism is it doesn’t work. Ever. Prohibition didn’t stop people drinking, drug prohibition hasn’t stopped drugs, gross indecency laws didn’t stop homosexuality and making prostitution illegal has not had any effect on the frequency of that either, though each of these attempted measures drove the said practises underground and, where markets existed, into criminal hands, creating massive gangster problems. None of it has ever worked. Ever.

    Your terrible underclass will not stop drinking or smoking. They will not eat tofu and salad. They will find ways around all that. But, as said before, you will truly immiserate the temporary dole claimant, the man or woman who has lost their income and needs to find another one, and can’t for a while because the economy is shit, largely due to meddling by the Elect.

    Look, you are entitled to believe whatever you like about what is The Best Way To Live. You are entitled to despise smokers and hamburger eaters, express your disgust at fat people, turn up your nose at people enjoying a drink. That’s your right.

    But trying to impose it on everyone else, that is not your right. And deciding you can sneak in your nasty puritanism by foisting it first on the weakest and most dependent is not your right either.

    I mean, get this through your head. No grand plan ever works. We have had two hundred years of tireless reform by the Elect, and where has it got us? Where is Utopia? Nowhere. People drink, people smoke, people like tasty food.

    Just get over it.

  60. It’s also worth adding, having mentioned “Utopia”, that only a certain kind of person thinks that a society where nobody drinks or smokes or eats hamburgers is a utopian, or better state, than one where they do those things. Needless to say, I personally consider the idea of such a society hellish beyond imagining.

  61. So Much For Subtlety

    Ian B – “Whenever anti-smoker legislation is brought in, you will always have some remarkable statistic produced that proves it has had a glorious effect, and which is invariably bollocks.”

    Sorry Ian, but perhaps you would like to rejoin the reality based community? I have never once praised a smoking ban before in my life. I am violently adverse to them in general. You are perhaps thinking of someone else, although there are so few people who remotely sound like me.

    So no. You have got off to a p!ss poor start.

    “A good example was the “heart attack reduction miracles” after comprehensive smoking bans, all of which proved to be statistical tompokery.”

    I would be opposed to smoking bans even if they halved heart attack rates.

    “Well yes there is. It’s that you’re being a cunt.”

    Well I am going to be a c*nt anyway, so it still has a positive side – I am being a c*nt in a well defined and relatively harmless area. Otherwise I might get interested in GMOs or carbon emissions or somewhere I could do real harm.

    “The downside is that you’re immiserating other people, for your own enjoyment. Which is pretty much a summation of puritanism.”

    That is not a downside for me. Nor is it for you. And actually it is not for people on the dole either. It is in their interests to get off and into work as quickly as possible. This looks to be about the most pain-free way of doing it.

    “You see, I understand that you have this Manichean view; there are good beautiful people and bad ugly people (the “underclass”) and nobody in between.”

    Do you ever bother to read what is put before you? Have you ever read anything I have written before?

    “Nobody works hard, loses their job for a bit, needs a few weeks or months of dole, gets back on their feet. There are only the Good People, being sponged off by the Bad People, and that’s all there is.”

    Well it is true that this is a fair description of the welfare state, but let’s leave that aside. Yes, such people exist. The present system is designed to harass them back into work. It works but not well. People who make innocent mistakes are denied benefits for weeks at a time. The alternative is just to cut them off after a few weeks. It looks to me like making them mildly unhappy is a much better way of encouraging them back in to the work force.

    “Your “win-win” puritanism is why we’re in a mess.”

    Except the Isle of Man did cut their prison population by something like 14% I think. That is undeniably a win-win. Go on, condemn them for doing it. If a smoking ban in prison reduces the numbers of offenders what possible downside is there – even if I enjoy doing it?

    “gross indecency laws didn-t stop homosexuality and making prostitution illegal has not had any effect on the frequency of that either, though each of these attempted measures drove the said practises underground and, where markets existed, into criminal hands, creating massive gangster problems. None of it has ever worked. Ever.”

    This is nonsense. It actually does work. It may not work 100% or to your liking but it does work. You can look at societies where something like Prostitution is legal, like Thailand before AIDS, and you find 80% of men visit prostitutes. I doubt 8% of British men, in Britain, do. The fact a law is not 100% effective does not mean it is not worth having although I am not sure a ban on prostitution is such a case.

    “Your terrible underclass will not stop drinking or smoking. They will not eat tofu and salad. They will find ways around all that.”

    But they did in the past. When the last wave of puritanism came around, the feckless underclass became Methodists and worked their way into the middle class. It was perhaps the only really successful poverty-reduction measure in British history. When the Methodists collapsed, most of them remained middle class, but some backslid. You may not wish it to be true, but it is.

    “But, as said before, you will truly immiserate the temporary dole claimant, the man or woman who has lost their income and needs to find another one, and can’t for a while because the economy is shit, largely due to meddling by the Elect.”

    I do not see a ban on smoking is true immiseration. It is not as if they are starving to death or locked in a Work House. Your language is not helpful. They will be mildly inconvenienced and no more. The economy is sh!t because people like those on the dole do not get off their ar$es and make it less sh!t.

    “But trying to impose it on everyone else, that is not your right. And deciding you can sneak in your nasty puritanism by foisting it first on the weakest and most dependent is not your right either.”

    Actually I am not trying to foist it on everyone and again you have clearly never read a word I have said on the subject of hamburgers. But I can and I think we should foist a few smoking restrictions on those dependent on others. It is actually my right to do so.

    “I mean, get this through your head. No grand plan ever works. We have had two hundred years of tireless reform by the Elect, and where has it got us? Where is Utopia? Nowhere. People drink, people smoke, people like tasty food.”

    Actually looking around Britain it is hard to draw your conclusion I would think. Health care was a grand plan. It has manifestly worked. Until the health profession became derranged and stepped outside their proper bounds at least. All that tireless reform got us honest civil servants, an excellent system of education and public services like museums. It is a pity the Sixties generation decided they did n0t like it and trashed it all, but there you go. The Victorian puritans made Britain better in almost every way. It did work.

    Ian B – “It’s also worth adding, having mentioned “Utopia”, that only a certain kind of person thinks that a society where nobody drinks or smokes or eats hamburgers is a utopian, or better state, than one where they do those things. Needless to say, I personally consider the idea of such a society hellish beyond imagining.”

    Good for you. It is irrelevant because no where have I ever even hinted I want a society where no one smokes or drinks or whatever.

    It would help if you, you know, actually read what I wrote and made a mild attempt to reply.

  62. “I do not see a ban on smoking is true immiseration.”

    It is if you’re a smoker, you blithering idiot.

  63. And, I dunno where you got this-

    “But they did in the past. When the last wave of puritanism came around, the feckless underclass became Methodists and worked their way into the middle class. It was perhaps the only really successful poverty-reduction measure in British history. When the Methodists collapsed, most of them remained middle class, but some backslid. You may not wish it to be true, but it is.”

    -but it’s bizarre. The “feckless underclass” remained, which is why every era has had worthies trying to save it. The methodist craze had a lot of success among the new industrial proletariat, and the result was a lot of choirs and brass bands. They stayed in the working class, until the grand industries collapsed, they were all left unemployed, wondering why when they’d been promised God would reward them if they worked hard, and here we are.

    There was certainly a burst of entrepreneurialism from methodists, quakers and other religious nuts, driven by (a) they were barred from Parliament, the Church and Universities which ironically made them seek private fortunes and thus drove success and (b) the network effect of shared religion. In other words, same as the Jews.

    But the idea that the whores and footpads and vagabonds all found God and became “middle class” is just not what happened.

    The other point is this strange conservative idea that people are unemployed because they aren’t trying hard enough to find work. It doesn’t matter how hard you beat them with sticks, if there are not jobs for them to do, they can’t take those nonexistent jobs. Can somebody show me the two and a half million job vacancies we’re going to immiserate them into taking?

  64. So Much For Subtlety

    Ian B – “It is if you-re a smoker, you blithering idiot.”

    Really? I see smokers giving up smoking all the time. Sometimes two or three times a day. They get a little grumpy by they do not otherwise appear to be in pain. On the other hand I never see people perform root canal work without drugs. In fact I rarely see people get a head ache without more chemical relief than the average smoker who has stopped. It may be unhappy for them, but it shows no signs of being miserable.

    71Ian B – “but it-s bizarre. The “feckless underclass” remained, which is why every era has had worthies trying to save it.”

    No it did not. It shrank enormously. As the crime and illiteracy figures show. Under the influence of the Methodists the working class turned from cheap alcohol to the Chapel, the Brass Band, the Working Man’s Institute and the WEA. The feckless underclass all but disappeared.

    “The methodist craze had a lot of success among the new industrial proletariat, and the result was a lot of choirs and brass bands. They stayed in the working class, until the grand industries collapsed, they were all left unemployed, wondering why when they-d been promised God would reward them if they worked hard, and here we are.”

    Except they did not. The Methodists largely raised themselves into the Middle Classes. The working class did remain, but the working class these days is hardly poor. They had virtually none of the problems of the true underclass back then – low illegitimacy rates, low illiteracy rates, low crime rates, even lower homicide rates. Drugs were freely available but rarely consumed. This is why Pakistanis had to be imported in the 1950s – the working class was doing too well.

    It is even more obvious among Quakers.

    “But the idea that the whores and footpads and vagabonds all found God and became “middle class” is just not what happened.”

    Actually I tend to think it was. Except the vagabonds did not become middle class. They became Methodists and their children became doctors.

    “The other point is this strange conservative idea that people are unemployed because they aren’t trying hard enough to find work. … Can somebody show me the two and a half million job vacancies we-re going to immiserate them into taking?”

    You mean the ones three million Poles are doing? There is not some fixed number of jobs to do. There is an infinite number of jobs people could do. The question is finding the right clearing price for labour. No more. If we abolished benefits tomorrow, this time next year we would have no unemployed. Nor are the number of jobs fixed. They are not handed down by the government either. They are created by people going out and doing things. Some cultures are great at this – European Jews for instance. Some cultures used to be but are not any more – the Scots notably. Some have always been largely useless at it – Jamaicans for example. The English have not been great but they have not been bad either. Until recently when they became fairly useless. We need to restore this idea of starting new businesses, of taking risks. We do not do that by paying people to drink themselves to death.

  65. SMFS correct on jobs, too – a point I tried to make, but the aggressive little cartoonist started ranting about people stabbing themselves in the eyes with forks, so I gave up.

    I believe he draws naked women for a living – I assume this is a job he created himself. Perhaps he’s worried that if the dole goes a lot of talented new crayonistas will come along and take his job.

  66. Interested: your antagonist’s career choice has no bearing whatever on questions of unemployment benefit policy.

    SMFS: of the order of 600,000 Eastern Europeans are working in the UK. I reckon that fewer than three million of them are Polish, and that if they all went back whence they came it wouldn’t create two and a half million vacancies.

    Why do the Eastern Europeans get jobs ahead of the UK-born unemployed? Because they’re more employable: you’re comparing able and dynamic Poles with the bottom 10% of the UK labour pool. If the Poles weren’t here, many of the jobs wouldn’t exist.

    I agree that if all social security were abolished, most of the unemployed would find some way to survive – scavenging on rubbish dumps perhaps. But if they had the talent and dynamism to start a successful business, they wouldn’t be unemployed in the first place.

  67. @PaulB it does, because it is insecure and thus his own fear of unemployment is clouding his judgment.

    It’s easy not to have talent and dynamism when you get all you need free of charge.

    I shall refrain from mentioning your friend again.

  68. No really it doesn’t, it’s the fallacy of argumentum ad hominem. The quality of an argument is independent of the motives of the person advancing it. I don’t need to know why SMFS makes up stuff about “three million Poles” with jobs in the UK to know that it’s wrong. And conversely, it remains wrong whatever ulterior motive I may have for saying so.

  69. So Much for Subtlety

    PaulB – “Why do the Eastern Europeans get jobs ahead of the UK-born unemployed? Because they’re more employable: you’re comparing able and dynamic Poles with the bottom 10% of the UK labour pool. If the Poles weren’t here, many of the jobs wouldn’t exist.”

    Sure they are more employable. The great UK underclass does not want to work and prefers the dole. Thus they do nothing to meet their employer half way. Like turning up on time. And of course the Poles did not have a proper comprehensive education. So they are much more employable. But that does not mean the jobs wouldn’t exist. There is no limit to the number of jobs that could be done. The only point is the price. The Eastern Europeans lowered the price and so jobs were created.

    “I agree that if all social security were abolished, most of the unemployed would find some way to survive – scavenging on rubbish dumps perhaps. But if they had the talent and dynamism to start a successful business, they wouldn’t be unemployed in the first place.”

    I am not sure that is true. These days working through the benefits system takes a real effort. Not to mention that some of the most dynamic and talented communities are over-represented in the figures – South Asians for instance. I am sure that if welfare was not available many of them would be starting businesses. Again Scotland is the interesting example. Somehow they have gone from a very enterprising culture to a pathetic ward of the state.

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