THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
The four ways of spending money
This is the dawning of the Age of Mockery, apparently.

Wrong on every level?

Stumbling and Mumbling: In defence of idleness.

Is our bias in favour of industry and thrift out-dated? Do we need to adapt to a new paradigm? Chris Dillow of the blog Stumbling and Mumbling, who bills himself as "an extremist, not a fanatic", believes so. He even arranges English words in plausible patterns to advance his argument. Does work, as he argues, really now come down to a matter of taste? Should those who like it really be grateful for those to whom it is unappealing? And therefore ready to subsidise them as they, for example, go fishing?

I cringe at his every word. I can't help feeling that it's all a bit Woosterish, with simply a new cast of characters camped out in the Drones Club, but he seems sincere. Work is bad and leisure is good. Therefore the more leisure the better and such work as remains necessary should be left, rather like military service, to underpaid volunteers. Am I just old-fashioned? Conditioned by centuries of necessary graft? Or is there something wrong with his vision? Not to mention something creepy about the way that he imagines these are matters to be arranged centrally, with some higher authority moving us omnisciently around on a metaphorical chessboard?


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Colonel there's a financial arguement. I best concede to your superior knowledge.

james higham

Chris always tries to wind up "the right". He's at it again.


I have to say that superciliously suggesting that I should learn "about finance"and telling me I'm completely wrong (but of course no indications as to why), doesn't inspire me with great faith that you actually know what you are talking about.


Colonel Blimp

"If there is any inflation bond holders won't be paid anything!
And the full cost of it will be on the taxpayer!"


Hmmm, change loaned to borrowed.


I don't know, did they spend all the money Greece loaned? Think about it?


"getting money for nothing"
"national debt isn't a problem for the taxpayer"

So many errors in that Mark, you really need to study how bonds and general finance works.


Of course it is the reason for austerity. Where do you think the Troika come from?


We've already established that investors in index- linked bonds are prepared to lend their money to the government for a negative return - you say this is because they expect high inflation. Yet the same investors are investing in instruments that would leave them with a massive loss if there were any significant inflation. The fact that the price of these bonds is increasing suggests that the market views them as incredibly low risk.
OK. I'll explain how this really works. The government decides the interest rates and investors are happy to take whatever is offered, because they have a need for zero risk saving - getting money for nothing, especially when there is a shortage of other investment opportunities. It is entirely possible for the government to lower the rate to any level they desire using quantative easing.
The national debt isn't a problem for the taxpayer, though it might be a problem for people buying bonds.


The Euro does not help, but that is not the reason for austerity, try again.


I don't, thats how markets work, they should have understood that when they invested, plus, they can always sell even at a loss. Thats why there is a risk premium in investments. However it's extremely unlikely they will "lose the lot"

I think you need to study how bond investments "work".


Why not me?


There's a Dutch joke about an elephant and a mouse crossing a bridge. The mouse turns to the elephant and says "what a lot of noise we are making." Basically, Mark, you are that mouse. When you say "we" should support those who don't want to work, you don't really mean you. Like I said you are just a bandit.


Our society is mad - all light and no heat.


The austerity in Greece was neccesary becuase they were a society without their own currency.


If there is any major inflation then surely the people holding regular bonds are going to lose the lot?
How do you square that?


a)It isn't. I don't have anything against people's personal choices for consumption. I don't oppose people working towards their aims. I oppose the idea that workers should only be able to exist at the sufferance of those with money - that a condition for decent existence in our society must be work when 1) increasingly we do not desperately require the work, 2) those with money have not neccesarily contributed to society and are not neccesarily wiser than those without, 3) the kind of work that we do need people to do - the kind of behaviour we need from our neighbours probably isn't best motivated by the threat of destitution and 4) by giving the poor more choice about the work they do, we might actually build a better society (fewer chuggers?).

b) I don't think you should. If it were neccesary to force you at gunpoint to make food for me, to build me a house, or to otherwise serve me, what I am suggesting would be evil. That would be a slave society.
But I don't think it is neccesary to force anyone to do these things. People can instead be encouraged to do them for rewards - nicer houses, more and nicer food etc etc.
If the government wants to reduce the consumption of certain resources or limit certain behaviour it will impose a tax. But this really has very little to do with feeding everybody (because we don't have any shortage of food) or housing everybody (because the limits on housing are made by us).
Using the capital and knowledge passed down to us, it is possible for one person to produce a lot for himself as well as enough for many others, with scarcely any extra work.
And yes, there is a degree of force in society. There will always be a degree of force in society. That is unavoidable. A society based on property rights where you are justified in killing those who take your things, strikes me as both forceful and evil.
And if you won't do this, if you aren't prepared to kill those who need things, then essentially you agree with me. We must support the lives of every member of society. You do so grudgingly, I happily.
So, who is proposing a slave society here? Me? I suggest we acknowledge the fact that we are not prepared to kill those who need food, that we will not imprison them and leave them to starve, that all decent people agree that we must provide a decent minimum for every member of society and that we gain not very much from forcing those at the bottom to work for their daily bread. I believe that the market should be largely free to operate - within a sensible legal framework.

You argue that the poor should be cajoled and forced into unneccesary labour. Why?
Isn't that the real slave society?


As you well know, that depends on the definitions of behaving "well" and "badly". Yours and mine are completely opposed. I regard you as a bandit seeking to deploy state force to your wicked ends. You seem to regard me as a heartless bastard who would like to walk over the dead bodies of the starved poor. You want the majority to determine who is right, but the problem with the "godding" that you and Dillow (and all authoritarians) go in for is that there is no one true way.

I applaud your preference for less work and more fishing as long as you are prepared to pay for it by accepting less material rewards. I chose a "get rich slow" scheme life of 30+ years of 60+ hours a week and 24/365 on call because I had more material wants. I was shallow enough to dream of a Ferrari for forty years - a choice you would no doubt scorn. Good for you.

You still have to answer the questions (a) Why is my choice less valid than yours (even if a majority agree with you) and (b) why should I be forced at gunpoint to alter the economic results of your (and their) choices?

Be clear. I am not refusing to contribute to a safety net for the unfortunate. Quite the contrary. I know I might be one of them one day and want it to be there. I just don't want it to be a hammock. And I think our society would be healthier if a much more limited government gave tax breaks on even its much more limited taxes to incentivise those prepared to set up charitable foundations to do all or at least most of it.


Your sneering references to my heroes are at best disingenuous. Paine proposed something analogous in the context of an agrarian society where land was the only true good. Those days are gone. Land is a relatively trivial element in modern capital, especially at its true market value (as opposed to the rigged value created by planning and building controls). Ask the landed gentry whether the industrialists, traders and financiers are their lackeys anymore. When Apple or Microsoft leases from a land"lord", ask him if he feels like a lord anymore! Besides much productive real estate in advanced societies now belongs to the masses through their life assurance policies and pension funds etc. Paine's dream was realised better by capitalism.

Hayek contemplated it as a possibility in an utopian far future when it could apply to all mankind and explicitly said it was impossible for one rich society to do it while others didn't.

Friedman proposed a negative income tax, which is not quite the same. I would abolish income tax for the sole reason that it necessitates massive state prying into personal life. That would be unnecessary if spending were taxed. HMRC could simply hook up electronic feeds to the nation's tills.

To the cries of "regressive" I retort that (a) spending is a good enough index of income (and immune to avoidance), (b) it's also an index of wealth (I would be volunteering to be taxed again when I spend my savings and (c) if and to the extent that's not true, it's good to incentivise investment over consumption.

If there MUST be income tax however, Friedman's proposal could merge taxes and benefits in a possibly sensible and economical way, allowing one horde of bureaucrats to be released for production. He certainly did not intend, as you seem to do, to recreate slavery, with your "fishermen" as the slave-drivers and Dillow's mythical "want to work" volunteers being grateful for the sums you allow them to keep.


Mark, Unusually ^_^ I was with you up to the but about the benefits system encouraging people to buy houses they can’t afford.

I think “historically” the main things behind that are… one, inflation. The knowledge that what is might be unaffordable will be more affordable soon plus low start mortgages. And second, kind of connected with one the basic drive for house prices in increase, driven by the UKs south East, plus availability of the product.

Mostly the long term unemployed don’t buy.

I do agree the dole should fade out as earnings kick in, say one dole UKP goes for every 3 earned UKP and all done through the tax office.

I don’t think anyone minds too much (therefore but for the grace of god…) bailing out people who fall on hard times, or who really can’t work.

But I don’t like the thought of working hard to earn cash. that I could really use myself, and being milked for it Just so it allows someone else to not work for it. I don’t think any more of my own earnings should be in the government’s “gift” to me than the absolute smallest amount possible.

Goodness knows how much "individuual family allowance for life" for everyone would cost. It would provide lots of pointless state non jobs to administer I guess.


Index-linked does not mean they are 0%, in fact investors are looking to benefit from future inflation (a pretty good bet I would say-but time will tell).

And austerity in Greece was necessary because of what?


Well actually it has happened - the British government has sold index linked gilts at negative returns for investors. Looking at the returns on regular gilts I wouldn't be to optimistic on making a real return if held to maturity - but who knows, maybe we're headed for a deflationary crash?
So why do you think this has happened?

Don't you think that the curremt problems in Greece might have rather more to do with austerity than anything else?


Government debt is measured in GB trillions of Pounds not interest rates. But assuming you mean that people might in future lend money to HM Government at 0% to finance their continually increasing deficits (and accumulated debt) you have to ask why they would risk repayment of their loan for no reward. So yes it is a problem because it won't happen.

Greece have conducted a very interesting experiment in paying a lot of people very well to do very little (much as Chris and you are proposing), it has not worked out well has it?


Actually, I think the government is planning to introduce a half-assed "citizens income" (but only for the poor) - which would solve one of the problems with the benefits system - that part-time work is not worthwhile for those on benefits due to benefit withdrawl.
Unfortunately, it will leave the other major problems - that the benefits system discourages saving, makes us overly dependent upon our employer and encourages people to buy houses they cannot afford.
If I were to lose my job, I would receive nothing from the government until my savings had run out - which means unless I can save alot of money, I'm stupid to save. Why give massive advantages to buying a home (support for mortgage payments, home equity not counted when calculating benefits, tax advantages) as compared to owning other assets?
Universal benefits would solve these problems and limit the extent to which the governments blunders with respect to incentives would damage society.

And if the political solutions have been and are likely to be bad - what are the options here? Crush the poor? For what purpose?
Abandon benefits altogether? Never going to happen.
The best we can do is hope for is a simple system with a minimum of potential for government management mistakes


If the government debt was zero interest, would it still be a problem?


The idea of a basic citizens income sounds like a cross between a pension and child allowance. Like extending the dole to everyone?

The problems with pensions black holes and such are in the news a lot. Maybe I am wrong but I think the situation was made worse by Socialist PM Brown doing tax raids on pensions? Also I think someone was objecting to well to do parents getting child allowance?

So a "citizens" income might have the problems of both of them. or would it only be for the "poor"?

It sounds horribly like the state taking away our money by force and "generously" "giving" _some_ back... in return for votes.

Who said something about citizens discovering they could vote themselves money? Tears before bedtime...


Beveridge (whom many consider the father of the welfare state) considered idleness as one of the five great evils to be tackled by the government's welfare reforms of 1949, unfortunately subsequent governments have not been keen to enact anything to combat idleness, while showing great zeal to roll-out all kinds of new benefits which cannot be justified by your GDP.

The result can be watched on the debt clock above, which currently reads £1,099,760,000,000++, not so long ago it was below the unthinkable trillion-pound mark. A bond rating downgrade of your debt is imminent which will only accelerate the debt clock.

Chris Dillow may think himself radical but his thinking is not conducive to a comfortable future.


"Are you saying that we have no choice in this matter?"

If we don't have food, water, and shelter we die. We don't have a choice.

"I already think that an awful lot of the jobs which exist are " make work" schemes of little benefit to anyone but necessary because everyone "needs a job"."

Not something I've encountered in my working life, or even heard of before (outside of the state, of course).


Nature dunnit.
I'm confused. Are you saying that we have no choice in this matter?

Where are the employers?
I allready think that an awful lot of the jobs which exist are " make work" schemes of little benefit to anyone but neccesary because everyone "needs a job". You'd make this worse.
The job I do has absolutely nothing to do with anything I consume and everything to do with fitting into society. I imagine most people are in the same situation.


"You're the one who insists on people doing things before they are allowed to live."

Not me, I think you'll find that's nature.

"The fact that the things they must do are of no benefit to anyone suggests to me that you aren't particuarly interested in seeing them live."

If the things they must do keep them alive, that's a pretty big benefit right there. And if it involves a job, presumably the employer must see some benefit to it as well.


What means would justify my ends?
I would support using various incentives to get people to behave well, as well as punishments to discourage them from behaving badly.
Essentially the same system as we have now.


The scheme I support - a citizens basic income - has in the past been advocated by such crypto-communists as Milton Friedman (lovingly quoted in the post below), Friedrich Hayek and of course the real Tom Paine.
Considering that such a scheme would require rather less government interference than the current arrangement (which was itself established without a large degree of bloodshed) I think it sensible to assume that we wouldn't have to cross a sea of blood to reach this "utopia"(really, a pragmatic compromise).

In rejecting all intervention by government you are the extremist, the utopian - you would reject Hayek as a communist, a social democrat - it would be you, in refusing people bread unless they service the needs of those who happen to have money, who would create vast disparities of power which are likey to result in abuse - and consequently in revolt and blood. You would do this not in the name of the likely real world effects it would have, but due to a mad ideology which gives absolute precedence to the individual decision and refuses to acknowledge the existence of broader society.
But you are only able to ignore broader society because a) they are happy or b) because someone is using force to oppress them.


To some extent that is true, but it is true of all of us.
You're the one who insists on people doing things before they are allowed to live.
The fact that the things they must do are of no benefit to anyone suggests to me that you aren't particuarly interested in seeing them live.

Cascadian would like a South African or Gaza-type economy, maybe with lots of UN "support". That explains a lot.

A return to distinguished poverty for all, and happy smiley faces all around (provided you are well-connected and not one of the struggling plebs).


"So I guess you would say "be someone I know and submit to my will, it is all that my pride will allow""


As Tom said, you're the one who wants others to do as they're told.


That's an outrageous restatement of Andrew's point, even by your standards. Please spare us your straw men.

To say that a classical liberal expects others to submit to his will is a bit barmy, isn't it, when your every idea requires abject submission to the will of the majority as enforced by the state? When the social democrat model you defend has already made time share slaves of us all?

Everyone is entitled to an opportunity to live, certainly, but where is it written that the opportunity should be at the involuntary expense of others? It's fine to fantasise about better worlds, but please bear in mind the force that may be needed to make them come about.

The vile Hobsbawn told us that he thought 20 million murders would have been a fair price to pay if it could have brought about his vision of a better future. Please tell us you are not in that camp. What means would your ends justify?


The world might not owe us a living, but I think you could argue that the society we are part of does owe us an opportunity to live. The question is what are the conditions which apply to being considered a member of society, after which we will try to help someone survive.
A stone age tribesman might answer "be family, (or female and fertile) and willing to contribute to the fight when you can, or we'll all go down."
A 18th century Colonial might say "be white live locally and be willing to contribute labour when you can, because we don't have for the poor not to work (though the rich are a different matter)"
As modern men, what can you say? 3 percent of the population could probably provide for all of our (wasteful) food needs. What percentage of people need to work to maintain the rest of our lifestyle? What work is it that we desperately require of the least motivated and skilled? Will the prospect of deprivation produce people better able to provide us with personal services?
The real objection cannot be on grounds of neccesity, is not made because we need the lazy to work or because forcing them to do so will make them better people.
The real objection is to the universal society. You do not want to recognise strangers as a member of your society at all.
So I guess you would say "be someone I know and submit to my will, it is all that my pride will allow"


As far as I can make out, the piece only starts to make sense if you begin with the assumption that everyone's owed a living.

Mises briefly covers this, and other issues that might be relevant to your quest to discover the attraction of Socialism in this free book (personally, I think it's all down to envy and greed):

The comments to this entry are closed.