In defence of paternalistic welfare
In the courier mail today it was reported than LNP federal candidate for Dawson (ie Townsville), George Christensen, has suggested drug and alcohol tests for welfare recipients. An interesting idea.
A few years ago I would have been opposed to this. My reason was that people are generally best at looking after their own situation, and so it’s best just to give people money and then give them the freedom to manage their own affairs. This is the argument given by Milton Friedman against food stamps. But my view has changed.
I still think the line of logic is broadly correct, but the flaw in my old position was that people are generally good at making their own decisions, so long as they are also the ones held responsible for the outcomes. However, if you are able to make poor decisions and still be guaranteed a regular payment, then that undermines your incentive to make good decisions.
In short, freedom must always be linked to responsibility. I don’t believe in a paternalistic state, controlling the actions of free citizens. However, I think there is an argument for paternalistic welfare, controlling the actions of people who are using “public” money. Not only will this ensure that people don’t abuse welfare money, but it also provides another incentive for people to get off welfare so that they can escape the paternalism.
I agree with George that it is grossly unjust for hard-working and tax paying families to contribute extra to the government, and then see that money spent in irresponsible ways. We must remember that welfare money had to be earned first by somebody in the productive sector, and it should not be taken for granted.
Of course, many welfare recipients are responsible, spending their money carefully and working hard to find a new job. These people would not be hurt by George’s proposal.
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