Sunday, 27 June 2010

Balls and Chains

A golden ball and chain - public domain.Iain Duncan Smith - the UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and founder of rightist anti-poverty thinktank the Centre for Social Justice - has noticed one of the ways in which his and previous governments keep people unemployed against their will:

"Often they are trapped in estates where there is no work near there and - because they have a lifetime tenure of that house - to go to work from east London to west London, or Bristol, or whatever is too much of a risk because if you up sticks and go you will have lost your right to your house," he told the paper.

"The local council is going to tell you that you don't have a right to a house there, the housing association is not going to give you one.

"We have to look at how we get that portability, so that people can be more flexible, can look for work, can take the risk to do it."

Very good. The gamble, especially for people with family commitments, is patently skewed and insane: maybe a little extra money for a while, or possibly actually less money, in return for a certainty of losing one's most valuable resource. So what is he going to do about it?

He did not spell out exactly what sort of commitment would be offered on rehousing, but an aide said ministers would provide incentives for people to move, rather than force them to do so.

Ah. Much cry and little wool. Now, if 'incentives' meant some form of property right for current council tenants which was portable so that they could safely choose to take up a job elsewhere without life-changing losses being imposed in punishment, that would be very good news.

If it meant that some form of pressure, short of actual force, will be used to evacuate them from areas where they are not wanted and relocate them to others chosen by their betters, that would be very bad. It would also be an extremely difficult central planning problem, as unpopular in the destination areas as in the source, so it is probably not going to happen in any big way. But the fact that ministers talk of 'providing incentives' rather than removing their artificial disincentives and letting human nature do the rest, suggests that there is a weasel under the cocktail cabinet somewhere.

Nonetheless, absent weasels, the main idea would be an honest and humane one, yes?


Specifically, Ed Balls, whose considered response for the Labour Party is as follows:

"The Tory-Liberal government is doing this at the same time as cutting investment in jobs and industries and communities with a budget that will increase unemployment by 100,000 a year.

"That's why this policy is so profoundly unfair. We should be investing in jobs and growth to boost employment in our regions, not cutting it back and effectively abandoning high unemployment areas while telling people they should move house to get off the dole."

Yes, Ed, it is cutting investment in &c. by no longer spending on it all of the money which government does not in fact have, but which if it had it would be taking from &c. in the first place. Yet let us grant that your previous policy of investing in smoking wardens and crony capitalists was actually of benefit to poor areas like mine, or at least that it did no harm. After all, it isn't like the new boys are going to change it all that much anyway!

Why is it profoundly unfair to let people move from their current lord's estate without punishment, Ed? Why should people not leave crappy areas if they can make a living in better ones, Ed? Why would anybody want to keep large, generational concentrations of voters chained by the terror of lasting homelessness to posts where they depend upon your faction's policies for their bread, Ed?

This is so hard a question that my plebeian brain cannot cope with it, and I must turn it over to you as a member of our elected elite to enlighten me.

Bah. Had the Orchid of Westminster only waited for the actual proposals to emerge from the Cabinet, no doubt he would weaselly have found something we could all join him in booing. But no: his conscience bids him fire off at the very principle, for in his world jobs are just another handout from your lord, to be assigned or withheld as his whim and competence dictate. To entice his villeins to desert village and allegiance, when in hard times they are already well-cherished with the scraps and wise sayings from his table, is most monstrously unfair to all concerned.

Especially to their lord!

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