Socialism is of necessity a political philosophy of coercion. At its core is the taking of money one person has earned for ‘redistribution’. That money is used for another person’s benefit, without the consent of the first. Without any consideration of the rectitude of that redistribution it must be authoritarian, however liberal the reputation of the left. Of course that one authoritarian streak in the Left tends to lead logically to authoritarianism in areas not directly related to fiscal policy.
Andy Burnham, the current Health Secretary, came out with a classic example in telling people on incapacity benefits that they ‘must exercise’. Of course I agree with Mr Burnham that people need to come off incapacity benefits.
In 1992 there were around 1.9 million people on incapacity benefits. By 1997 this had risen to around 2.7 million, and stabilised there. However since then the number claiming income support due to disability has risen by about 300,000, from around 820,000 to around 1.12 million by 2005 (I don’t have later figures).
Over this timescale there is no logical reason for such rises in benefit claims. People have not got less healthy, whatever the scare stories say. Western European development is a tale of increasing life expectancy and expectation of health. So there are an additional 1.1 million claims in a slowly-increasing population with improving general health.
What has happened is that benefits have become easier to claim and many people (probably close to a million) claim benefits they would not have been offered in 1992, for which John Major’s administration must take as much blame as Tony Blair’s.
The increase is largely in people who would otherwise be on unemployment benefits. However there is a problem in this. If state funds rather than private insurance is used, unemployment benefits should be just enough to manage a frugal existence, as they are a temporary stop-gap while more work is sought. They are not intended to maintain a lifestyle. They are a civilised society’s way of making sure even those on hard times can scrape by (the benefit trap and excessive benefits is not the subject of this discourse). Anything more discourages return to work, and harms everyone including the benefit recipient in the long term.
Incapacity benefits on the other hand should really provide a moderately comfortable existence, which might have to be protracted, so it is more likely that people who might be able to work would stay content with this income. People don’t have the choice of being well or ill, or rather they should not. Unfortunately it appears that many are signed off ill who are well.
Benefits are an authoritarian device, with central government deciding how much money to take, that they are presumed unworthy to make their own decisions in spending, and deciding who might be worthy of largesse. Therefore the Government feels able to command those people, that the Government thinks it is paying (of course it is not; we are paying them)
Here we come to the idea that Mr Burnham is telling people on incapacity benefits that they must exercise. On incapacity benefits there are those who are content with the income, and in a poverty trap as many would have a lower income if they did work. They themselves have no reason to make and effort to return to full fitness and to work. Mr Burnham feels they should be, to remove their burden from the state. Mr Burnham thinks he is paying for their lifestyle, so he feels able to tell them what to do.
Authoritarianism is therefore a natural result of socialism. Socialism infantilises the individual by making him or her a ward of the state. The state then feels it is justified and necessary to decide what the individual must do. I believe this is fundamental to socialism, not just a flaw of implementation.