Left is right

by Lord Sutch


If you’re not a liberal when you’re 20 you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative when you’re 30 you have no brain.

Common expression that one. I turned 30 last year so I’ve been waiting these last 9 months for an overwhelming desire for tax cuts mixed with a hoping for a stiffening in the prison system.

Except it hasn’t played out like that. I haven’t become more right wing. Although when I joined the corporate world and started wearing a tie to work, my father, who is a teacher and a life-long leftie was convinced I’d sold out and joined the devil’s side.

“This is my son, I used to think he’d be a Labour Prime Minister. Now I think he’s a stooge” he once introduced me as.

So like I said, I haven’t become more right wing. If anything I’ve become more left wing. Except now I go in pursuit of evidence to support my beliefs. I think that’s how these things are usually formed, we have an idea, we mentally pat ourselves on the back and support that idea, then through confirmation bias we go in search of data that confirms our idea while at the same time discounting all other data that might offer a different perspective (climate change sceptics are a good example of this – “BUT LOOK! I FOUND 2 SCIENTISTS OUT OF 1000 WHO THINK IT’S BALONEY!!”).

Every now and again I get worried that I’m in the wrong, because I see people like Treasury, who are economists, who have studied economics and they all seem to advocate for a very right-wing agenda and I think “boy those people know more about economics than I do, they seem to think XYZ, and I think ZXY, I’m probably not right here”. But then I do more reading and I feel righter (lefter) than ever.

So last night while I was having a cruise around Reddit (some of it is not awful) I found a link to the following article:

Generous welfare benefits make people more likely to want to work, not less

Now that’s a headline that causes a leftie’s heart to start beating faster isn’t it?

The summary is as follows:

Generous welfare benefit levels make people who are not in employment more likely to want to work rather than less, new research suggests. “Many scholars and commentators fear that generous social benefits threaten the sustainability of the welfare state due to work norm erosion, disincentives to work and dependency cultures,” the researchers say. “This article concludes that there are few signs that groups with traditionally weaker bonds to the labor market are less motivated to work if they live in generous and activating welfare states.”
The article concerning the study is from Science Daily, and the article itself is published by Sage Publications. They seem like a legit organisation, in fact in 2012 they won the Independent Publishers Guild Academic and Professional Publisher of the Year! However they were also suspended from the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association when they conducted a study into peer review efficacy.

So that’s out of the way, now we turn to the study.

It was a survey conducted of 19,000 people in 18 different European countries. It focused on responses to the statement

‘I would enjoy having a paid job even if I did not need the money’

What they found is quite remarkable. The more a country paid to the unemployed or sick, and invested in employment schemes, the more people were likely to agree with the statement, whether employed or not.

To quote liberally from it:

“They found that almost 80% of people in Norway, which pays the highest benefits of the 18 countries, agreed with the statement. By contrast in Estonia, one of least generous, only around 40% did.

The UK was average for the generosity of benefits, and for the percentage agreeing with the statement — almost 60%.

The researchers also found that government programmes that intervene in the labour market to help the unemployed find work made people in general more likely to agree that they wanted work even if they didn’t need the money. In the more active countries around 80% agreed with the statement and in the least around 45%. The UK’s response, though one of the least interventionist, was around 60%.”

They attempted to rationalise it – maybe those who are paid generous benefits feel more dutybound to go out and get work to give back to the State that so generously looked after them. I don’t know if that’s quite right, I wonder if  those who live in countries where the benefits for the unemployed are shit-house feel dispirited by the whole exercise and have their souls crushed by the right-wing machine (which I realise is just the cynics perspective of exactly what they’re positing).

But the point is this doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what the rationale is, the point is that we have data that shows, among European countries anyway, that the warmer the blanket of welfare, the more people want to actually work. Put that in your ivory pipes and smoke it.

This isn’t a lone study that seems to show that reality really does have a liberal bias. A lot of us have anecdotally heard that in the United States it’s actually cheaper to give homeless people a house than it is to let them be homeless (the figures vary from state to state, but this New Yorker article is a good read on the matter).

Then there’s prisons. LOCK ‘EM UP! THROW AWAY THE KEY! CHOP THEIR BALLS OFF. Etc. These are usually refrains from people who think that tougher sentences will act as a deterrent to people from committing crime. I’m going to do two things here, first-off, some anecdotal information from the world of social marketing. You may or may not have noticed that drink driving ads have changed a wee bit. When they first started airing in New Zealand in the 1990s, the slogan was if you drink and drive you’re a bloody idiot. And the ads reflected this with you becoming bloodied and idiotic and smeared on roads, fences, gulches, other cars etc. Nowadays we are more likely to see ads that have the slogan ‘if you drink and don’t drive you’re a bloody legend’. They’ve replaced the negative deterrent focus of the ad with a positive enforcement of good behaviour. This is no accident (ha!) either. This is the result of research that shows that deterrents don’t work super well, but that offering to replace the bad behaviour with something positive does. That’s Social Marketing 101.

In 2005, the excitingly named “National Bureau  of Economic Research” released a paper on the efficacy of increasing severity of punishments. The hypothesis they were working to was:

Economic theory predicts that increasing the severity of punishments will deter criminal behavior by raising the expected price of committing crime.

It’s quite a long paper but in a nutshell, it concludes that this doesn’t work. And one of the major reasons this doesn’t work is because the people who are more likely to commit crime – ironically it’s usually the tired, the poor, the huddle masses yearning to breathe free – the less likely a deterrent is seen as a deterrent because hey, their life is pretty shit anyway.

Then at the other end of the scale is the Socialist utopia of Scandinavia. This Guardian article about the Norwegian prison system paints a fairly rosy picture of how awesome their system works and it seems that the statistics support it, Norway has the lowest recidivism rate of any country in Europe. This article about recidivism rates in the United States makes the case that countries that focus on rehabilitation rather than retribution make for more successful justice sectors.

I’m sure there are other left-wing tenets that will prove to be disastrously wrong, but the ones that I’ve been thinking about lately, yeah  they seem to have science on their side. So quit hating science Right Wing side of the Planet. It’s only trying to be your friend.


SAGE Publications. “Generous welfare benefits make people more likely to want to work, not less.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 March 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150331074345.htm>. 



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Rick Rowling April 2, 2015 - 1:47 pm

“What they found is quite remarkable. The more a country paid to the unemployed or sick, and invested in employment schemes, the more people were likely to agree with the statement [ ‘I would enjoy having a paid job even if I did not need the money’] , whether employed or not.”

I haven’t read the original article because I’m lazy and have the ‘flu and it’s almost Easter.

Did they show any correlation to go with the causation?

An alternative statement could be:

“The less that people were likely to agree with the statement ‘I would enjoy having a paid job even if I did not need the money’ , the less a country could afford to pay the unemployed or sick”.

/Disclaimer again, maybe they showed causation, not just correlation.

ropata April 4, 2015 - 7:28 pm

I don’t think they claimed causation but so what? Your inverted statement doesn’t weaken the argument. Did you read the rest of the post?

The point is that a country that treats its citizens with humanity winds up with better social outcomes. If you treat people like crap, crush the weak and disenfranchise the poor, don’t be surprised if you get a massive criminal underclass.

Kumara Republic April 5, 2015 - 4:42 pm

Sadly, I fear the culture war-pigs are winning the propaganda battle with their superior financial resources, much of it probably hoarded in tax havens. The catchphrase “PC gone mad” has become the new Two Minutes Hate.

When low-skill jobs get replaced with robots and the Internet of Things that can do the job more efficiently, of course people become dislocated. Without any major change in the economic thinking of the past generation, modern Anglosphere society in particular is going from capitalism to neo-feudalism. Or even the Roman Empire with smartphones. Go and see “Inequality For All” if it’s still being shown on the art-house circuit.

It’s probably gotten to the point that prejudices won’t shift until something as big as a 2nd Great Depression happens – something even bigger than the post-2007 GFC.

As for myself, past experiences of bullying and pressure to succeed gone mad seem to have made me a social democrat for life.


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