Thursday, 5 May 2011

In defence of those who have "no skin in the game"

It's very rare that I'm genuinely surprised by the level of stupidity coming forth from a right-wing commentator. However, today I had exactly that experience. It came when I read Ian Howie's Telegraph blog - advocating that voting rights be restricted on the basis of income levels. Yes, really.

Even with my position on voting and parliamentary democracy, there are more than enough reasons to be opposed to what can only be described as monumental fuck-knucklery. Not the least amongst which is the casual way in which the most vulnerable in society are not only excluded but utterly overlooked. Then there is the level of thinly-veiled snobbery and a truly piss-poor attempt at political revisionism. Not to mention a level of detachment from reality that beggars belief.

Thankfully, the genius Mr Howie is "not suggesting a return to property-based eligibility," though he does argue that "that system worked quite well when Parliament administered not just Britain but most of the world." No, "today, income would be a much better test, setting the bar as low as possible; perhaps including everyone who pays at least £100 of income tax each year."

With this generously low bar takes in "everyone who gets out of bed in the morning to go to work" as well as pensioners and mothers. Which is nice. We'll overlook the fact that most mothers these days do get out of bed to go to work, since Howie is good enough to condescend to them anyway.

However, these proposals would "exclude large numbers of people who have no ‘skin in the game’ and who may even comprise the majority of voters in some metropolitan areas today." In other words, the "scroungers" - all those people who "take out more than they put in" by having the nerve to be welfare claimants in a country with a welfare state. The nerve.

At Where's the Benefit, Lisa shoots this nonsense down with ease;
So he thinks disabled people who volunteer for their local youth work charity aren't contributing to society? That people who care for a disabled loved one aren't giving back to the country they're claiming benefits from; despite saving the state £87bn a year? That the unemployed person who runs a Brownie pack is just scrounging and providing nothing in return?


I have no "skin in the game"? Right, cos it's not like disabled people are dying because they lost their benefits; and who knows if at some point in the near-ish future that I'll lose my piddling income and find myself as one of them?
Not to mention those in part time jobs, earning less than the £7475 tax-free allowance. They're clearly not worth the time either.

But neither those who do work but don't earn enough nor those who can't work because they're far too ill warrant a mention. They're all just people with "no skin in the game" to Howie, for whom anybody who isn't a taxpayer is a parasite unless they've got one foot in the grave or are shooting out sprogs in the name of "defusing the ‘demographic time-bomb’ of an ageing population."

It gets more surreal when he claims that such people are "likely to be damaging to the decisions taken by democracies." With the help of an unverified quote from Alexander Tytler, he argues that democracy "can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury" and "always collapses over loose fiscal policy." Apparently, "the credit crisis afflicting democracies around the world demonstrates the truth of this observation."

Yep, that's right. The crisis at the moment is nothing to do with the capitalist system. The credit bubble never grew to cover the shortfall between declining wages and rising prices as the balance of class power tipped in favour of the bosses. The greed of the financial sector never inflated this bubble to obscene proportions, nor took advantage of the aspirations of the poorest and most desperate in the sub-prime markets. The state, as the enforcer of capital, certainly isn't recouping the losses from the inevitable crash and the bail-outs by escalating the programme of austerity.

No, some people who are sick are being kept alive and well with tax money. Heaven fucking forfend.

The parable he uses to illustrate this nonsense, of ten men going for a beer but not paying their equal share, is beyond absurd. It tells us not "how non-contributory democracy led to the credit crisis in a nutshell" but how an utterly ridiculous strawman allows a supposed journalist to collect his cheque by perpetuating bullshit.

For Howie's parable to have any degree of accuracy, the richest man's income came entirely off the top of what the others earn. The poorest would have to be barely subsisting, and treated with utter contempt by the bar staff whilst the richest man accused them of getting favourable treatment. The richest man would have to be let off with his share of the tab far more than he had to pay it. And the richest man would have to be in cahoots with the barman to see the others only get a quarter of their pints whilst he got double what he paid for - only to accuse them of getting extra booze for free and being drunk.

But that doesn't fit neatly into a narrative which turns class privilege on its head and fails to acknowledge even the basic tenets of economic reality, does it?

As I've said previously, voting isn't a vehicle for significant, systemic change. If it was, they would abolish it. But that is an argument against investing as much time, energy, and resources into elections as is currently the case, and against encouraging illusions. It is not the justification for some knobhead from the Telegraph to declare people too poor or to feckless to be able to put a sodding "x" in a box with any degree of forethought.

Such an idea, aside from being insane and moronic as I've argued above, is a sign of the contempt that the capitalist class and its lackeys hold for the working class. But they, not those at the bottom of the social ladder, are the contemptible scum of society. We should never forget that.