Saturday, May 13, 2017

How social welfare is killing us

Andrew D Atkin:

Social welfare today is overwhelmingly a function of taking care of the elderly, and the young through schooling.

In terms of costs, the elderly are by far the biggest consumers of welfare, especially when you include public health costs.

But to make my point, let's look at two forms of welfare: Traditional and socialised.

Traditional welfare:

Take this scenario. Your elderly parents live close in a comfortable sleepout in your backyard, giving them and you your own space. You pay for their keep in terms of food and shelter and other everyday living costs.

Though you pay more in transparent costs, with this scenario you will find that you earn more and pay far less in tax, if this is how nearly every old person in your society is taken care of - excluding, of course, those small few who do not have family to help out so then the state would step in.

With this traditional (pre welfare state) form of welfare, the elderly are not left lonely or productively redundant. They naturally help out around your house, cleaning and cooking, and caring for grandchildren and maybe homeschooling them as well. They are expected to help out as they are accountable to the hand that feeds them, which is their adult children.

This kind of welfare is extremely efficient and does not lead to abuse, because the hand that receives is directly accountable to the hand that gives. Hence welfare is fairly and humanely rationalised.

Socialised welfare:

No need to spell this one out because we live in it today. Most retired people live expensive independent lives, because they voted for superannuation - a system of nationalised charity.

I don't know if the retired are generally happier for it, but as the hand that receives is interpersonally separated from the hand that gives, there is in turn no effective accountability with respect to the welfare process.

The truth is, the rationalisations to take a pension come easy when it's seen as just "government money" to the minds of the retired. And the fight-back to unaccountable charity becomes benign when the productive generations are mostly blind as to why they are struggling, when their costs are not directly transparent (note, governments don't post you emails on exactly where your tax money goes and comes from - they should!). Instead they simply watch the cost of living forever creep up and they never clearly understand why.


All the beatup we hear about in referring to unemployed people as "dole bludgers" is a red herring. The biggest so-called bludgers (and I don't think that's a fair word) by far are the retired who, without honest investigation, rationalise their beneficiary status by reminding us that they had to pay for the welfare of their parents generation, so their benefits are really just a tax rebate. But that's a silly argument, because the ratio between the producers and non-producers was far greater in their working day, because people died much earlier in times past. Leaving them with more inheritance than bills.

The cost of socialized welfare for the retired is now massive. The retired, broadly, have gone from being useful in the past to being a crippling burden. And it's been driven by the irrational expansion of socialised welfare which has now become almost impossible, politically, to reverse. Remember that democracy is not a function of justice - it's a function of the vote.

And the results are serious. Young people are struggling to breed, or breed at a healthy (young) time, due to the cost of a vast welfare system that simultaneously wastes human resources by leaving old people redundant. Which, I would argue, is an unnatural and stupid condition.

The situation of today is clearly not a 'natural' choice - it is not a response to market priorities. It's a perverted choice driven by the mass-subsidisation of welfare. It is undeniable social-engineering and I must say on an impressive scale.

But now that our fertility rates are collapsing, and parents are struggling, we need to revise what we're doing and how we are doing it. I would argue that the situation is getting out of control, so we need to look at our social systems at their core. We need to think further than just raising the retirement age by one or two measly years. We need real reform.

Is it time to rethink traditional welfare?

This is my podcast relating to this issue:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Argument for stopping Urban Sprawl

Andrew Atkin:

It's true that only about 1 part in 125 of New Zealand's land area is covered over in sprawl, with much less than that being actually built on (much of the sprawl area is garden, grass and trees). Because of this, we argue that urban sprawl is not an environmental problem as it consumes such little land in the greater scheme of things. Indeed, our agrarian actions are many times more invasive.

But there's another way of looking at it.

Take this scenario. We discover 100 exo-planets close by in our galaxy that are full of life. Would that then make it okay for us to completely trash our earth, because earth is then only 1% of the life-bound planets that we specifically know of? Obviously not. The existence of other life planets, no matter how many there might be out there, in no way devalues the earth that we currently stand on. Intrinsic value is not a relativity game.

With this appreciation, we can understand the grief many might feel with the mental picture of 'mother nature' being concreted over for human settlements. Even though people may know that it's only a very small portion of the total land.

You can still argue that no matter how big our planet is overall, sprawl nonetheless paves over a lot of earth and that can reasonably be seen as a problem.

So let's take this common grief - and look at the reactions.

Kill Sprawl:

The reaction promoted by mainstream environmentalists is to stop sprawl outright. Forcing cities to go up - not out.

The problem, as most now know, is that stopping sprawl comes with significant costs. Anti-sprawl policy compromises economic development and housing affordability as it artificially enforces scarcity with land to build on, and it aggravates many other problems that come with crowded living, such as pollution and mental health problems.

Yet mainstream environmentalists hold to anti-sprawl policy, because for them the green grass should nonetheless be preserved, even at very real human costs.

Green Sprawl:

But there is another defensive potential to stop humans from concreting over the earth, again presuming that 1 part in 125 is to be seen as already too much. The idea is to design sprawl so that it doesn't need concrete (or very little of it) in the first place.

Is sprawl without concrete realistic?

Take a look at the diagram directly below. It shows us how much land we need to pave over for a functional road, for if we want to make a religion out of keeping the green instead of the grey.

You can already buy driverless pod cars, off the shelf, that can operate on little more than a couple of concrete rails like what the image below indicates. So we can get rid of most roading for new residential developments, if that is what we really want.

And take a look at the next image to get my point. We can virtually bury houses in the greenery if we insist, especially if we move in the direction of earth-houses.

Human settlement can in fact be remarkably uninvasive, and indeed it can drive ecologically-rich garden-style development. In fact there are odd spots of this kind of development everywhere. It's beautiful, and green, and potentially very affordable.

So where do the mainstream environmentalists stand with this kind of development, as an alternative possibility to Urban Growth Boundaries? That is, the idea of greening sprawl rather than outright blocking it?

The answer, sadly, is nowhere to be heard. I have promoted this possibility in forums to environmentalists in the past, and all I seem to get is a stone-cold silence to the suggestion. It's almost like they're more interested in beating-up on humans than helping out the environment!... Or, more realistically, conforming to a party-line so as to maintain their unity and preserving their backing.

It's tragic. We can so easily improve sprawl today if we really can't stand all that concrete. We have the tools to do it. There is no need, by any reasonable measure, to block human expansion. We can simply regulate sprawl to be pretty much as green as we want, if we want.

But alas, this possibility never seems to enter the public conversation on 'up versus out'. I hope this will one day change, because we're paying dearly for our current anti-sprawl policy (Urban Growth Boundaries), and most notably with a housing market where prices have gone mad. And all of it is totally unnecessary.

Extended article: