Thursday, May 7, 2009

Welfare And The State

I’ve never understood the loathing of welfare. The safety net thing — that’s the single biggest advantage we have over places like the US. Try talking to Jennicki for a while as to what it means to know that losing your job means losing your healthcare – and knowing there’s not even a useful equivalent of ‘the dole’ to keep you out of the gutters.

I have no problem with welfare in this country. I’ve seen too many successful and valued writers, artists and musicians get their start on unemployment. I know too many high-tax-paying businessfolk who got their start because they could afford to take a risk, knowing that if they failed it didn’t spell the end for them. A semi-functioning welfare structure acts as more than a safety net: for the young, the creative and the entrepeneurial, it provides a springboard. I'll let you in on a clue, here: most of the folk I knew through university have sucked at the government tit in one form or another. And I will bet you my last penny that every one of them has since then gone on to pay far, far more in taxes than ever they received in welfare.

You know some of those people too, if you're on this site regularly. And if that's the case, you're stuck with acknowledging this painful fact: for a (possibly) small but important class of people, the welfare system actually produces a massive profit for the government -- because without the ability to move between jobs, and to make career choices, and to further their education without the risk of drowning their futures in US-style debt, those innovative, independent-minded, highly intelligent people would probably have been stuck at the bottom of the fiscal food chain, deposited there by the lack of a parentally-provided fortune.

All that Horatio Alger myth-building stuff? It's bullshit. For ever genuine clawed-their-way-up-from-the-bottom success story, there are at least ten thousand who won the birth lottery and scored via simple nepotism and inheritance. Without a decent welfare structure, if you're born at the bottom of the heap, that's where you stay. Don't take my word for it: go and look at social mobility in countries without decent welfare. It isn't hard to do... but I suppose it's harder than sitting back and bitching about your taxes going to those lazy dole-bludging cheats, eh?

I find the resentment of tax by the wealthy predictable, boring, and more than a little painful. Welfare is enough to keep people from starving, and not much else. You should think of it as a form of insurance, because if it isn’t paid – well, history shows that starving people with nothing to lose tend to take matters into their own hands with some violence. And frankly, I'd be one of 'em in a flash. If the system wasn't there to support my family if we suffered a dose of bad luck -- and bad luck can be all it takes, folks -- you can bet I'd be only too ready to act against that system to support my children. Pay your insurance, folks: you don't want too many angry fathers working together with your comfortable, asset-rich asses in their gunsights.

There's more: idiotic right-wing religions take root amongst the poor and oppressed. Yes, the rich Saudis are Wahabi — in theory — but where do you find the suicide bombers and the fanatical jihadis? For every Osama bin Laden, there are ten thousand Mohammed ibn Mohammeds, sons of the souk and the wadi. You want to see radical Islam (or hardcore USAnian christo-fundo-bullshit) settle firmly in Australia? Cut welfare: let the religious organizations move in to support the disenfranchised. In a generation, you'll be fucked like you could never imagine.

Are there people claiming welfare dishonestly? I expect so, yes. What do we lose to them anyway? The little money we pay them is spent, not accrued. They are not becoming wealthy on your taxes. In fact, they’re shifting that money into the pockets of people even richer than you — and if you really want to get pissed off about the system, maybe that’s where you should be looking. After all, we're not a poor country. We can afford to ignore a few people siphoning pennies out of the chump change jar - especially when we're willing to throw elephant bucks at the banks every time they cry poor.

There's still more, though. This is Australia. Our national identity is all about the fair go, the helping hand, about pulling our mates up out of the mud when they fall. An Australia without a decent, comprehensive welfare structure isn't an Australia at all: it's a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fat Corporate Bastardry, the world-wide nation-state knocking on every door on the fucking planet, and I don't want any part of it.

Paying taxes isn't my favourite thing. I disagree with many of the areas where the government chooses to spend my money. But you won't hear me complaining about welfare: it's done too much for me, for my family, for my friends, my community, and my country.

Just Another Thursday.

Elder Son has cello Thursday mornings. His teacher visits the high school, not the primary school, so we have to get him there by 0830. Normally, Natalie loads Younger Son on the bus first, but today she forgot the protocols.

Ah well. She took off with Elder Son. I made a lunch, loaded Younger Son and the Mau-Mau in the car (after spraying everyone with pyrethrin/orange-oil/ti-tree louse dismayer) and scooted down to Scottsdale. Dropped Younger Son at school, reminded him I'd be picking him up after lunch for afternoon Spanish.

Had a quick breakfast at the bakery with the Mau-Mau, which made her very happy. Then we zipped round to the hospital, and waited briefly for Natalie to show up with Elder Son and his cello. Loaded up. Headed home.

Elder Son started in on his typing exercises. The Mau-Mau got a dose of ABC kids cartoons, and I answered some email for about half an hour. Then I got together with Elder Son, and we tackled science: what's the difference between living things and non-living things?

I figured we should start in on the living world. We've been playing with magnets and electricity, but now we've made contact with the natural history curator at the museum, it made sense to look in another direction. Elder Son did a pretty good job coming up with stuff to define "life". Of his own accord, he decided that living things grow; that they take in stuff from their environment, change it, and return other stuff to the environment. He also decided that living things reproduce themselves. He had to be prompted to consider the concept of irritability/response to environmental stimuli, but I was pretty happy with the discussion anyhow.

After that, he ducked outside and found five different living organisms. While he did that, I made lunch. When he came back in, he wrote a paragraph about each of his living organisms (a sample from a lavender bush including flowers, a sample from a hazelnut tree including the nut, a mushroom, a shelf fungus and a grasshopper) detailing how they fit the description of 'life' that we'd worked out. He had to do a bit of reading on mushrooms and fungi to figure out that his samples were actually the reproductive/spore-bearing parts of the mycelium, but overall he did well.

We dashed back down to Scottsdale then. Collected Younger Son from school. Collected the post. Did some shopping for dinner. Zipped back home again.

The boys had to clean the cages of the rats and mice, so I took the time to read to the Mau-Mau for a while. Once the rodents were fixed up though, it was time for an afternoon of Spanish. Then we got into the cleaning and tidying, and I had laundry to do, firewood to split, fires to lay and start...

Fucking Dog has learned to jump the low wire fence I built around the clothesline. We've had a month or more of our laundry NOT being all over the ground. That's come to an end. At least part of my weekend will be spent building a higher fence. Short of actually killing the dog -- which tempts me at the moment, I admit -- there seems to be no way of convincing him that he doesn't want to swing by his teeth from the dangling laundry. So: picked up a lot of laundry off the grass, took the next load up to the dryer in the shed.

... made Yum Cha-style steamed dumplings for dinner: pork, chicken and prawn. Also ran up some crunchy spring rolls and some steamed vegies. Natalie was late coming home, unfortunately. It's a pity, since she loves her Chinese dumplings. Still, there wasn't much I could do about it.

Finally she did get home, and I sent the kids off for their bath, fed her... and then, at last, retired to the study for a beer. Where I am. Now. Listening to Natalie wrangle the kids through tooth-brushing and pre-bed stuff. She's running late. The Mau-Mau has wound up something fierce. Ordinarily I'd step out and shut things down, but Natalie has insisted I shouldn't do that... so I figure it's her problem and she can deal with it herself. It's about time, anyhow. Figure if she's going to ask me not to intervene, then she's got to work out how to get a handle on things.

I have to admit to just a wee touch of schadenfreude here...