A Modest Proposal, Poe’s Law and Libertarian views on welfare

I quote one of our friendly neighbourhood sociopaths from the gloriously-named SOLOPassion, in full:

NZ Politics: I Have a Cunning Plan – Tax Childbirth
I know! I’m suggesting a tax. Bear with me …
On TV3 Firstline this morning, after picking myself up from the floor when political reporter Patrick Gower dropped it so casually into his ‘reportage’ that the Green’s idea of Government setting up its own Kiwisaver scheme to distort the free market even further was a fabulous one, and he couldn’t understand why Labour and National hadn’t thought of it, it was then reported that pursuant to some overseas agency of or other that one in every four New Zealand children was living in poverty.
I don’t think it is then spurious to draw the logic line to the social welfare commentator Lindsay Mitchell statistic that 23% of all babies born over 2010 (for the State educated, that’s almost one in four) were in ‘homes’ reliant on a hard benefit to live by the end of the first year of life.
That has set me to pondering. Rather than the Save the Children lady’s solution, when she was then interviewed, of spending yet more money on welfare, and creating yet new layers of bureaucracy, and working on the theory that you can’t fix the problems of welfare by more welfare, I think a radical rethink is necessary.
Hence my proposal to fix this problem in just one generation: rather than taking from all taxpayers as we do currently, and subsidising childbirth, which I pose has led to these two related statistics, I think we should be doing the reverse – taxing childbirth.
This would force parents to assess their financial ability to have children, and only start families when they could afford to. This will mean within one generation, we will have virtually wiped out the horrendous 23% statistic, and with it, child poverty, in the one blow. Further, the childbirth tax could be put toward the State functions that those children will be using: education and health.
There will be a hue and cry, obviously: babies for the rich only, Occupiers in maternity wards, all founded on the protest that governments should not decide such important lifestyle choices as who has babies and who doesn’t. The last of which I entirely agree with, whether it be via a subsidy or a tax, for therein lies my cunning plan ;)

This is a perfect example of Poe’s Law, which states:

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.

It’s a perfect example because literally the only thing about it that’s vaguely implausible is that it’s a Randroid proposing a tax.

Swift’s A Modest Proposal was far enough removed from the prevailing norms of his intellectual circle to be distinguishable from them. This isn’t. It’s in the uncanny valley of political discourse.


PS: Check the comments, if you think you can stomach them.

34 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal, Poe’s Law and Libertarian views on welfare

  1. It’s says clearly this is satire Lew. And yet, ironically, it would end child poverty, whereas Labour’s lolly scramble will grow poverty.

  2. Mark, where does it actually state that it’s satire? You can get that from the winking smiley and the last par, but it doesn’t “clearly” say any such thing.

    And if it’s “clearly” satire, Mark, you don’t get to argue “but it would end child poverty”. Not only is that not any kind of irony, it’s what we might term trying to have your baby and eat it too.


  3. The entire point is in the last paragraph Lew: the proper role of the State. That’s what the piece is about. Why did you miss that?

    But let’s continue the Twitter debate, you never answered my question. Regarding unemployed mother of five on TV1 and unemployed mother of eight on TV3, I’ll pay for their first kids, that’s the safety net. But, why would a civilised society make me pay for children two through five, and two through eight. I have my own family to care for, and my own goals, my own interests and charities. So you convince me, Lew. Why am I to be forced and enslaved by the State to pay for irresponsibility on the scale of these two women?

    How is this the ‘civilised society’, throwing thirteen children on the scrape heap of poverty?

  4. Mark, the proper role of the state is whatever those whose state it is say it is. That’s sovereignty.

    In fact, I did answer your query, and I’ll give you the same answer again here: this is what societies do. Civilised human societies throughout history have found ways to communually support their children. Often this support has been selective or variable, but it’s always been there in one form or another, and it’s always conformed to the social norms of its time. Our social norms in the first world in the 21st Century are such that we will not countenance children dying of malnutrition, begging or enslaved, or their mothers forced into prostitution or exploitation such as often happened before the advent of the welfare state, and still happens in parts of the world without one.

    Humanity has made this call — not the “socialist” bugbears of your fevered imagination, or the shadowy “welfare industry” as it is obscenely called by some people, most of whom have no direct knowledge or experience of the systems they hate on ideological grounds.

    You can call for a return to the good old days down pit if you like — or the sort of welfare model that exists in some parts of the world, where parents disfigure their children so as to increase their begging potential, because they have no alternative. But bear in mind that what you’re talking about isn’t society in any modern, developed sense of the world; it’s the Law of the Jungle, and a rather less charitable Law even than Kipling’s. Yours is not a human system; it’s a law of animals.

    So I don’t need to convince you; human society already gets this. Present company apparently excluded.


  5. This is what you say societies do, and in this tyranny of the majority you force your morality on me, which is immoral. And your system is based on theft.

    So we will always disagree from the foundations, in this case, your very first sentence.

    And there is no excuse, and you know it, for what these two irresponsible women are doing, and the State that subsidises it is barbaric, not civilised.

    I don’t want a return to the ‘good old days’ or anything so trite. I want freedom. Especially from the brute state. And you. But your ethic won’t let me.

    And careful, your lefty brute streak is tangling around all over twitter tonight, and this badly conceived piece.

    Good night Lew.

  6. @Mark

    “Why am I to be forced and enslaved by the State to pay for irresponsibility on the scale of these two women?”

    Forced and enslaved? I suppose you are forced and enslaved to pay for sanitation too?

    Didn’t your mum teach you about how babies are made? There are at least two other people who were involved in making those children, why do the women (who are at least looking after the kids) get all the blame?

    You people (I’m referring to libertarians) seem to think that children are like property and that you should both be able to whack them and abandon them when they begin to cost you something.

    You seem to think that people make a rational calculation to sleep with someone, but the only people who make such decisions on purely rational grounds are sociopaths.

    The DPB is not currently sufficient to live on and is a poverty trap. I work with young parents, predominantly on the DPB, and not a single one of them wants to be on the benefit. It is no high life – it is shitty. They don’t lie around thinking of who they can seduce so they can keep on “living the dream.”

    But the core issue is this, is the system which began in 1991 by cutting benefits below subsistence levels producing less welfare dependence? The answer is no. In fact, the poorest 10% of Kiwis are even poorer and even more trapped on welfare.

    I actually support some of National’s proposed changes for young parents, although they should only really be applicable to parents aged 16-19, i.e. to ensure the rent and power is paid (you have to practically beg WINZ to do that when kids ask for it themselves off their own bat currently!). But they ignore the fact, which Labour has finally conceded, that benefits are too low and are causing perpetual crisis amongst our poorest families.

    I am sure you are going to trot out the argument that work is always preferable to welfare. It is not. Parent-child attachment, formed in the first 2-3 years, is the single most important factor in resilience in later life. This is the direction that almost all the scientific evidence is pointing.

    To me it is ludicrous that we would encourage a young solo mum to work 40 hours a week and pay for her childcare rather than pay her a living wage and resource her educationally to look after her own kids. I’m not saying work is bad, it’s great, but it’s not the panacea it’s made out to be.

  7. Mark,

    All societies that have ever existed have had some form of norm-enforcement as a central feature. It is a large part of what makes a society.

    You argue that encroachment by the society on the individual is immoral and uncivilised. By your standard there has never been a moral, or a civilised society. All of human civilisation, according to you, is uncivilised.

    Your standard is therefore meaningless. Good night indeed.


  8. True. Where are the fathers’? The welfare state allows, nee pays, for the complete abnegation of responsibility.

    Look at what you are doing: trying to justify the thoughtless actions of two completely irresponsible women.

    (And are you actually saying they’ve not figured out birth control? Yes, I know how babies are made: knowledge of that is part of what’s called family planning. Pity these two haven’t been let in on the secret.)

  9. Says you ‘what makes a society’. Do not force your morality, and your brute conception of a society, on me.

  10. Mark, this isn’t *my* definition. You need some new terms. These ones already have meanings.

    And you and your tribe, so fond of screeching “A IS A”, are the fools trying to argue “CIVILISATION IS UNCIVILISED” with a straight face. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so sad.


  11. Oh, yes, the DPB is a poverty trap. That’s the point of the two sets of statistics I state. And I know all too well that when an impressionable teenager who is pregnant is offered a government cheque, over the love of her family, that she will take what looks like is the easy road. And that when she matures enough to realise that it was really the road to her, and her baby’s, serfdom, it’s too late. The welfare state is evil in its ends, as well as means.

    After the safety net, you’ve still not explained why I’ve got to pay for the rest of these women’s kids.

  12. Ok, what state of psychosis do you live in when you think that a 17 year old considers the (insufficient) state cheque over the love of her family before sex? That is absurd.

    Do you actually know anyone on the DPB?

  13. Mark H: No one’s denying there’s an elephant in the room, and it’s one thing to abolish the welfare state. It’s quite another thing to actually prevent the proles from breeding, short of breaking Anders Breivik out of jail and smuggling him and his weapons into NZ.

    And would the taxes theoretically saved be worth it, if you needed razor wired walls and Uzi-toting bodyguards to cover your arse? Somalia, Bolivia or South Africa, much?

    When Alberto Fujimori ran Peru with an iron fist, he reputedly ordered the forced sterilisation as many as 2-300,000 mostly poor, rural, and indigenous Peruvians, under the guise of ‘population control’. It came back to bite him majorly in the arse.

  14. After the safety net, you’ve still not explained why I’ve got to pay for the rest of these women’s kids.

    Because not paying for them would be condemning them to starvation, and in a civilised society we do not punish children for the sins of their parents.

  15. Not to mention that raising children is valuable work in and of itself, but thanks to accidents of history it is regarded as ‘women’s work’ which makes society view it as valueless or at least less important or valuable than paid work. The fact that we view parenting as a drain on society rather than something we should invest in says a lot about how we have misplaced our priorities.

  16. Comments about the state “forcing and enslaving” taxes to pay for “bludgers” illustrate the remarkable sense of entitlement that can arise amongst individualists who refuse to accept the reality of restrictions and limitations of individuality from intricate social structures and power relations. The surge of anti-welfare state drumbeating that has risen over the past generation (decade?) seems very immature. It reminds me of the incoherent and inchoate rebellion of a spoilt brat teenager trying to reject the values of his parents, without recognizing the privilege and comfortable life that the parents have brought him.

    The symbolism in this seems somehow reminiscent of the Oedipus complex – taxation = castration? Haha.

    But abuse of reason aside – it’s remarkable that such a major social shift (from full employment and the end of the golden weather, to a deregulated low wage economy with medium-high structural unemployment) is almost never commented on. Rogernomics is seen almost purely in terms of selling state assets, and it’s rare to see exploration of the psychological dimensions or the impact that this may have had on the way that NZers see society. In this regard, Gordon McLauchlan’s ‘Passionless People’ is worth re-reading, as a window into the committee driven, lemming-like mindset of the mid-20th century NZer. The extreme individualism that is far more acceptable in society today than it has ever been, is almost a polar opposite of – and perhaps a reaction to – that previous mentality.

  17. Give it up Mark…these useful idiots are too far gone in their parasitism that they can’t even see the contradictions and immoral dead ends of their anti-human dogma. You are a means to their glorious socialist ends…suck it up dog…and submit to your masters.

  18. So Tansy….Mark is expected to live as a slave due to these Women’s irresponsible choices…? Where did they get this right?…and where did the state get the right to enforce it?

    [Misogyny and suggestion of rape excised by Lew.]

  19. Alex…I’ll be round to [personalised suggestion of murder and rape excised by Lew], hey…. property’s probably just theft huh?

    The dogma and nonsense goes out the window real quick when its you who is faced with the reality of your views doesn’t it Comrade?

  20. James, the last time I banned you from KP it was for the suggestion that if people didn’t want to get raped in prison they should refrain from committing crimes.

    This time it’s for suggesting that mothers on welfare should be raped, and that you might murder a commenter and rape his wife because you have an ideological difference with him.

    There will not be a third time. I’ve left your comments up in as vile a form as I’m prepared to admit, to illustrate your depravity and lack of perspective, but you’re done here.


  21. My final retort …

    ‘Before I start, something nice and fluffy. Unlike Red Alert, where Totalitarian Trev has banned me, and unlike The Standard that couldn’t stand the white light of liberty shining on them either, Lew Stoddart has allowed up every comment I have made, including hopefully this one, to his post (discussed below), which this piece is about: I’ll give you that Lew, then I’ll serve you this …’

    Continued on below link:


  22. Once people start using terms like “enslaved,” “tyranny,” “forced” or “imposed” morality to characterise policy in a democratic regime (however flawed it may be), they cannot be taken seriously. Once they start getting vicious when challenged, their sociopathic tendencies become evident. The inability to understand the concepts of common good and public interest dooms them to frustrated ranting.

    That Lew engages (however disapprovingly) with such folk is a tribute to his patience but to my mind is a road to nowhere. These are narrow minded zealots, and like zealots everywhere, their grasp on complex reality is tenuous.

    As someone who has actually lived for extended periods of time under real tyrants (albeit market-oriented ones), I find the use of such extreme language laughable and dishonest on comparative grounds. If Mark, James and company think that welfare statism in any form is “tyranny,” and that they are enslaved by the democratic state, then all of their rhetoric about totalitarianism is a joke. It is as if one would call a cat a lion without ever having seen the latter in action.

    And for all their tough talk, I doubt very much that we will be seeing these armchair warriors on the frontlines of the fight against real tyranny anywhere but in their own minds.

  23. millsy, you never read my linked post, did you. If so you would know how both trite, and offensive that statement is. I would see no one living on the street, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim for a free, civilised society where people make responsible decisions. Then you will see an abolition of poverty of the wallet, and of the spirit, which is the overriding ethic in your comment.

    Now, read my post.

    Pablo, I’m a family man, and I’m peace loving, that’s why I believe in the non-initiation of force: if the freedom loving hippies of the 60’s have descendents, it’s libertarians. So am I going to destroy myself against the State to get my freedom, and ruin my family? If we’re such a civilised country, why should I have to?

    What is it about freedom that scares you so much?

  24. Mark, your comments here are fine. If you want to abuse reason and logic that’s on you; but anyone who wants to abuse or threaten others in this forum, it becomes my problem.

    I can’t rebut your post at SOLOPassion because you require me to register there in order to comment, which I won’t do. But regardless, the whole argument that your post is satire is disproven by your insistence that the substantive argument — the policy impact — is correct. The technical term for this is “kidding on the square”, but I rather prefer what I called it above: trying to have your baby and eat it too. If it’s satire, you can’t stand by it. If you stand by it, it’s not satire. It’s too late for you to pick a side now; you picked it when you wrote it.

    Regarding my twitter comments from some weeks ago, which you’ve taken out of context — both are simple statements of objective fact. Like it or not, reproduction is bound by biological and cultural factors – it’s not simply a matter of rational individual choice. Similarly, humans quite simply are animals, members of genus homo, species sapiens. This is not to say people are slaves to base determinism; only that (1) we don’t have a magical rational-actor override switch, and (2) it’s more complicated than “just don’t have kids if you can’t support them”.

    Yes, Virginia, life is complicated. It doesn’t boil down to a trite set of wishful absolutes. And I, for one, am glad of that.

    Regarding your latter comment, all I can do is echo Pablo: meow.


  25. Final thought, Lew. Satire or not, relating to my piece: is it material? My one point is that a government has no right in deciding issues – other than surrounding use of force – around child birth. Neither subsidising nor taxing: and logically, how can you agree with one side of that equation and not the other? I know you can, it’s part of ‘redistribution’ as far as you’re concerned, but in that is the destruction of freedom, and for me, because welfare begets welfare, ultimately the violent society. Again, I am the only one on this thread who is committed to the non-initiation of force principle, yet look what people are imputing to me. I wish the Left understood itself better.

    See ya on Twitter.

  26. Mark, of course government has a right to do so. In a modern democratic system a government’s role is — within fairly broad reason — to reflect the wishes of its people. While it’s my view that this is proper it isn’t an evaluative statement; simply a description of the status quo; the existence that exists; A being A. Your argument, on the other hand, that the state has no such role simply does not accord with reality. Never has.

    Similarly, not all acts of government are equal. You accept this, ascribing special status to acts that prevent the initiation of force, or whatever. Every other society in human history disagrees. Not as a matter of principle – we agree that some acts are different — but as a matter of where the line is between a legitimate act of government and an illegitimate one.

    That discussion — about the extent to which a society ought to govern itself, and how — is one of the major political and philosophical debates of humankind. The answers are not, contra Rand, inherently specified by The Universe, and in my view it should not be trivialised as Objectivists trivialise it, reducing the discussion to the argumentative equivalent of monkeys throwing their poo.

    Happily, the rest of the world agrees.


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  28. I don’t know the circumstances of the women referred to as “irresponsible” but I wonder why women with dependent children on welfare are automatically assumed to be irresponsible? Stuff happens, and despite new age sentiments to the contrary, we can’t control everything that happens in our lives.

    Quite plausibly some women on the DPB were able to support their children when they were conceived, but circumstances in their life changed and now they can’t.

    If no one had a baby unless they had absolutely every contingency covered, there would be no babies and the human race would die out.

  29. This is the sort of thing *genuine* libertarians should be focusing on (from the usually hate-filled SOLO) : http://www.solopassion.com/node/8740. NZ is a virtual police state these days.

    I cannot bring myself to vote National this year because of Judith Collins and their law and order policies.

    Unfortunately red-necks like Hubbard AKA “Tribeless” are destroying the party by focusing on virtually non-existent “welfare queens”. Fiddling while Rome burns.

  30. “Unfortunately red-necks like Hubbard AKA “Tribeless” are destroying the party by focusing on virtually non-existent “welfare queens”. Fiddling while Rome burns.”

    Instead of justifying their arguments and rebutting ours, these Randroids basically said, “fuck this, we’re outta here, it’s just not worth arguing with those dirty commies!” Escaping back to the comfort blanket of their razor-wired gated communities named after trees that were bulldozed to make way for them. And they’ll probably still be holed up there if things turn Mad Max, unless they’ve gone warlord.

    And the funny thing is, the term “Randroid” was coined by of all people Murray Rothbard.

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