Entitlement makes up for lost production

Joe Hockey was fond of talking about the end of the age of entitlement, basically meaning that people should not expect support from government and should buy their services in the market — including health and education services if he had had his way. There are, however, various good reasons why government should be fully involved in welfare and the delivery of services. I will look at one of them, one that we do not often think about.

Early this year in his pieces on tax reform, 2353 pointed to the fact that couples with young children may look to government for financial support because the children are non-productive members of the family. The question is whether that is a legitimate claim on the government. Joe Hockey would likely have said not but, historically, I believe it is because it is government, and society in general, that has played the major role in creating that situation by regulating access to the labour market.

The economic role of children has changed as society has changed. In hunter-gatherer societies children of both sexes from a very young age assisted in the collection activities of their mothers — they actually learned by being involved. As the boys got older, they would join their fathers, uncles and other males in the hunt and learn to track, pursue and kill game.

In agricultural societies (and even on modern farms), children also contribute from a young age. In Australia in the 1800s, after schooling became widespread, it was still common in rural areas for school attendance to drop significantly at harvest time as the children’s first priority was to help on the farm, and that applied to both female and male children. As an example, in 1870 at a place then known as Moorwatha in south-western NSW, a regular school attendance of over 40 dropped to fewer than 20 at harvest time.

In the early years of the industrial revolution, children as young as 7 or 8 worked in factories and mines but, even in Britain from the 1830s, the government changed the rules to limit the hours children worked and the age at which they could.

From the 1930s to the 1960s in Australia it was common for male children, usually around 12 to 14, to work as paperboys on city corners or walk suburban streets selling their newspapers, or to see them assisting with the daily delivery of milk or bread. (Who remembers milk and bread deliveries?)

So it can be argued that until about the mid 1900s children were not unproductive members of a family but were essential economic contributors. It was only the wealthy who had unproductive children (and, as much as I would like to, I won’t get into the argument that they also became unproductive adults).

We also made formal education for children compulsory and gradually increased the years of schooling that we thought necessary. Early on it was normal for children to leave education at the end of primary school (aged about 11 or 12): then 14 was made a compulsory age for schooling, and then 15. We now encourage everyone to complete Year 12 (aged 17 to 18) — some, but not all states have made 17 the new minimum age for leaving school — and then to undertake further tertiary education at TAFE or university so that ‘children’ now may not complete their education until they are at least 19 or 20, if not older, in effect giving up from 5 to 10 years of productive work.

In our modern society, students can find part-time work from age 15, particularly in the retail and fast food industries, and still remain in education. In that regard, there is still some scope to contribute economically but it is now more limited.

If society and government have changed the rules so that children can no longer contribute economically to their families as much as in the past, then who has the responsibility to make up for that lost production?

In many early societies, elderly people were acknowledged as the repository of wisdom, of experience, life skills and knowledge of the world in which a community operated. Even if they were no longer physically productive, they may know the best foods, the best places to search for food. They retained the knowledge of the medicinal qualities of plants. They were sought out and valued for that knowledge. That changed with the means of retaining knowledge in books, then those books being printed and becoming widely available. Now we have computers, the internet and the knowledge explosion. Older people are now often seen as ‘behind the times’ but that doesn’t mean they still don’t have extensive knowledge of life skills, of the informal rules that operate in their communities and emotional knowledge and understanding.

In some societies elders were (and still are) given additional status by the practice of ancestor worship. As the elderly approach the time at which they will join the ancestors they are cared for by the living to ensure that they continue to contribute to their descendants’ good fortune after they pass over.

Pensions were introduced partly to meet the needs of a growing population. It was a way of providing for people when they became too feeble to work. In the 1800s in England, older people often ended their days in ‘workhouses’ and later ‘alms houses’. A growing population meant it was cheaper to provide pensions and allow elderly people to support themselves rather than build many more alms houses. Australia never had a system of workhouses, so aged pensions were introduced, initially at the state level, some years before they were in the UK.

The other argument, based on Australia’s lead in social welfare, was that after people had worked for over 50 years, originally from age 12 or 14 to 65, they had made their contribution to society and deserved an adequate retirement. (It was a similar argument used to justify long service after each ten year period of service.)

Then came the baby boomers. Long term projections at the time raised the prospect that when the baby boomers entered the workforce there would not be enough jobs. There are two means by which the size of the available workforce has traditionally been managed: by lengthening the period of education and/or lowering the retirement age. To ensure enough employment would be available for the baby boomers, Australia relied mainly on lengthening the period of education, thus allowing time for more of the then existing workforce to retire before the baby boomers entered. We also allowed early retirement in some cases without changing the official age of retirement. In the current climate, with fears of a smaller workforce as the baby boomers retire, we have focused on increasing the retirement age rather than lowering the age for compulsory education. In Europe, facing a similar problem, many governments initially lowered the retirement age and are now increasing it again.

On the other hand, much modern work is information based, rather than relying on physical labour, and there is no good reason why older people cannot continue in such work. They would often be the keepers of corporate knowledge. With the knowledge explosion, we seem to have forgotten the old adage about learning from the past and not repeating its mistakes. In Australia people who lose a job when they are over 50 have considerable difficulty finding new work and often become long-term unemployed. Their life-time skills and knowledge are disregarded as irrelevant in our modern world.

I have a personal example when a young woman from another government department suggested her department had a ‘new’ idea for Aboriginal affairs. I informed her that it had been tried over 15 years previously and not worked: if it was to work, it required acceptance of higher costs and the government had not then, nor when we spoke, been prepared to accept those costs. I might say that without my corporate knowledge a mistake would have been repeated. Why such corporate knowledge is now seen as ‘old fashioned’ is a mystery to me.

Although the government in recent years has been encouraging people to remain longer in the workforce and offering incentives for employers to retain older people, it does not yet appear to be happening to any significant degree. The government allows the market to determine what it does and employers are not taking up the opportunities that changes in government policy are providing. So there is much lost productivity, for individuals, their families and the economy.

Longer periods of education are justified not only in terms of managing the size of the workforce but because more knowledge is available for learning and many jobs in the new economy require higher level skills. Hockey and his fellow neo-liberals have been keen to increase university fees on the basis that graduates will have access to higher incomes — that may be true but comes in return for giving up years of potential earning. That lost earning capacity comes at a cost not merely to the individual but to their family — which is one reason why participation of lower socio-economic groups in higher education has not improved as much as expected.

The point is that it is actually the government that is determining the period when people can be economically productive members of society.

Despite governments having over the years made the rules that reduced the productive activity of children and the elderly, the likes of Hockey, and other believers in the neo-liberal agenda, suggest that services for the young and old should be provided by the market — rather than alms houses we now have privately owned retirement villages and the encouragement of private schools. Can you see the inconsistency in that approach?

How can the young and the elderly purchase in the market when the government has put in place rules that restrict them from earning in the market? They are left with only two options: reliance on the earning capacity, and support, of the productive members of their families or reliance on government assistance, whether in cash or services. To the extent that the changes have reduced the total productive activity of families, by removing the young and the elderly, then surely it is logical that government meets the costs of the changes it has made.

I am not suggesting that we should turn back the clock to the worst of child labour, or elderly people working until they drop, but we need to acknowledge the historic changes that have taken place in our society, that have changed the economic contribution of the young and the elderly, and consider who bears the responsibility.

If it is government, as the political representative of society, that has changed the opportunity for effective economic productivity for children and the elderly then why shouldn’t it be government that accepts the cost? The argument becomes a market-based argument, not a welfare argument — which should be acceptable to Morrison, Hockey and their ilk: as a society we have, even if for good reason, removed the right of children and the elderly to participate in the labour market and therefore we, as a society, through our government, have an obligation to make up for that lost production for the individuals and their families.

What do you think?
As Ken has presented a very different and unusual argument supporting government provision of welfare and services, we will be very interested in your reaction. Does Ken’s historical argument stand up?

Next week, as the weather forecasters are predicting a severe El Nino this summer, Ken takes a look at the state of water in Australia and some of the politics involved, in ‘Where does all the water go?’.

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21/11/2015Ken What an interesting piece you have penned. By making the connection between welfare entitlement and the opportunity that citizens have to be productive during their lives, you have made a plausible case for providing welfare to compensate for the shorter period of productive work that our system of longer education and forced retirement brings about. The longer period spent gaining a comprehensive education that equips the young for the industries of the future is both laudable and necessary. Enabling retirement at an age that is compatible with waning physical strength too is desirable. But as industries become less and less reliant on physical strength, older people ought to be able to remain productive for longer and longer periods, and thereby defer becoming dependent on social welfare. In a way, a good education that equips citizens with the skills necessary to continue productive work beyond the usual retirement age is a natural counterbalance; as well as reducing the period of welfare dependency it carries the addition benefit of giving older citizens a sense of purpose and usefulness, which forced retirement so often robs them of. It would be interesting to have Joe Hockey’s views about what you have written after his lecturing us so often that ‘the age of entitlement is over’. But he’s completely disappeared in a puff of cigar smoke! What would Scott Morrison say?


22/11/2015Ad In one sense, I can't take all the credit for this idea. It was 2353's comment that I refer to at the start of the piece (about non-productive children) that inspired the piece, although it took me some time to build the argument. So 2353 also deserves some credit for this -- just as songwriters are acknowledged even if they contributed only a single line to the lyrics. I agree that higher levels of education are important in a number of ways. As I said, changes have been made for good reason, but their impact is to restrict access to the labour market for the young and the elderly. As I suggest at the end, this is really a market-based argument for welfare and government services and , as you suggest, it would be interesting to have the reaction of Hockey and Morrison -- perhaps we can send them the link!!


22/11/2015Comrades, (Ye precious few!) By the time I've written this there will I suppose be a new thread.* I'm sorry. It's the times. Nobody's got much heart these days. I can hardly force myself to write anything these days. 2353 Your thoughtful effort deserves a greater readership, you are a masterful writer and your central idea is very attractive ... But I must say I am unconvinced that the greedy leopard of Capitalism is likely to emerge any less spotty from whatever sanctions are brought against its worst exponents. (Cue squeezing toothpaste-tube analogy.) Cupidity springs eternal I am sure, and villains will get away with whatever they can. And I don't see a flood of remorse for excesses in past times. Denial, obfuscation, self-justification, that's the sort of stuff I see. Rampant hypocrisy the like of which I never anticipated, going as if unnoticed by the great majority. Dyson Heydon FFS. Turdball's millions in overseas tax havens, Dog Albitey people think that's OK, praiseworthy even, but imagine if it were Bill Shorten or *JU*L*I*A*! Ad I read your Extra piece Understanding the Conservative Mind (if Mind be the word!) ... I agree we're differently wired ... The question is whether it's nature or nurture, because if it's nature, humanity is doomed never to live at peace. *Yes there is. I haven't read it yet Ken. I'll just post this. Sorry All.

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24/11/2015Talk Turkey Thank you for posting a comment about [i]Understanding the conservative mind[/i], a piece that was posted on [i]TPS Extra[/i] on 18 November. Apologies for my slow response; I’ve been busy with family matters these last few days. Apart from a useful link to a similar book by Avi Tuschman, yours is the only comment on this piece so far, which I find strange, since understanding how the brains of politicians work seems to me to be central to our understanding of politics. You make a striking point, namely that if our brains are indeed hard wired to believe certain things and think in a certain way, as Lakoff suggests, [i]…“the question is whether it's nature or nurture, because if it's nature, humanity is doomed never to live at peace.”[/i] On the face of it, that is a reasonable conclusion, disheartening though it is. Yet George Lakoff believes that it is possible to change the way brains work. He asserts that if we are ever to change the political dynamic [from the adversarial towards the collaborative], we need to understand and employ what he likes to call the ‘New Enlightenment’: “[i]that would not abandon reason[/i] [which was central to the Old Enlightenment] “[i]but rather understand that we are using real reason – embodied reason, reason shaped by our bodies and brains and interactions in the real world, reason incorporating emotion, structured by frames and metaphors and images and symbols, with conscious thought shaped by the vast and invisible realm of neural circuitry not accessible to consciousness. As a guide to our own minds, especially in politics, we will need some help from the cognitive sciences – neuroscience, neural computation, cognitive linguistics, cognitive and developmental psychology, and so on.”[/i] It seems to me that if we are to have any hope of reversing the adversarial politics we have here and which exists the world over between conservative and progressive thinkers, between religions, indeed between the multiplicity of opposing forces around the world, we [b]must[/b] learn how to understand how each side thinks, how they come to hold the values and beliefs they do, indeed how their brains work. The evidence and logic involved, the emotional components, the imagery, the metaphorical thinking, the framing, and the linguistics applied by each side to each issue, all need to be understood and taken into account in developing strategies for engagement, whether that be to achieve victory or rapprochement. Can the mess that politics here and everywhere else is in, can the conflict that exists the world over, ever be resolved without such an undertaking? The question is: ‘Are there any influential players who are capable and willing to embark upon such an exercise, and should they do, are they capable of taking the necessary steps to bring about at least some resolution of the conflicts in which citizens, states and nations find themselves embroiled day after day, year after year, and just as importantly are they willing to do so?’ As we look beyond our shores to the conflicts and chaos that afflict so much of the world, we can take some comfort from the relatively benign political situation here. Perhaps it is here in our own nation where the political conflicts seem manageable that we ought to begin the process of understanding not only the conservative mind, but the progressive one too, and any other mindset that influences politics here. From modest beginnings close to home, it might be possible to extrapolate to more difficult situations. While it is perfectly understandable to feel despondent about the political problems we face and pessimistic about whether they can ever be resolved, Lakoff does offer some hope, and some mechanisms that are worth exploring. You would find his book [i]The Political Mind[/i] a fascinating read. Here is a short video of Lakoff being interviewed about his book. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RkvV4GkRQU Of course not all reviewers of his book endorse his claims. Some are critical. Some think he shows too much bias to the liberal (Democrat) cause and is too condemnatory of the conservative (Republican) cause. Some question the science he embraces. To discount his book though would be a lazy thing to do as he proposes many plausible hypotheses, ones that thoughtful people who seek a more enlightened brand of politics are bound to find helpful and advantageous. Of course, those who hold political views different from Lakoff might find it convenient to dismiss his ideas, lest perhaps the other side of politics cottons on to the strategies that have made them successful! Thank you again for engaging in the debate about how politics is profoundly influenced by the way our brains think.

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24/11/2015Talk Turkey You might find Richard Wilson’s link informative, providing as it does some further evidence about how some of our values and beliefs are hard-wired, perhaps from birth, in Avi Tuschman's book: [i]Our Political Nature – The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us[/i] http://ourpoliticalnature.com/#reviews http://ourpoliticalnature.com/fullsummary.html


25/11/2015Thanks Ken. Whilst I agree with what you've written, long serve leave (LSL) was a product of Australia's early colonies. LSL was adopted to give people the opportunity to go back to England (on a boat) and visit family and friends.


25/11/2015Thank you Ian and glad you enjoyed it. I hadn't heard that explanation before. By the time I became aware of LSL, the explanation I suggest was the one that was used -- that people deserved a break after each ten years of service. That was also behind early retirement in some European countries where a person could retire after 25-30 years with the same company. i guess, as in many of these things, there is an evolutionary process involved that also involves an evolution of the reasoning.

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26/11/2015Talk Turkey I have posted another dose of Lakoff for you as a comment on [i]TPS Extra[/i], with an example that shows the striking parallel between two leading conservative and progressive thinkers here in Australia: http://www.tpsextra.com.au/post/2015/11/18/understanding-the-conservative-mind#comment


28/11/2015Ian, Just to acknowledge you ... Newcomers to the Sword are rare these days, and you are welcome. That's an interesting historical gem you unearthed - so, LSL was actually invented in Australia? - As was 8 Hours Day (Labour Day), female suffrage (and I can't think of the others but I know there were some) but in those days Australia was determinedly egalitarian - (or at least, the egalitarian sections of our society were!) - Meanwhile the Squattocracy was extending in all directions, and our early dreams of a proper Republic in which Jack was as good as his master vanished. "Don't it always seem to go That you don't know what you've got til it's gone" Joni Mitchell 'Big Yellow Taxi' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94bdMSCdw20 "On 21 April 1856, following negotiations between building tradesmen and contractors, and with the approval of the colonial government, an eight hour day was introduced into the building trades in Melbourne. The movement was led by the stonemasons who argued that eight hours a day was appropriate in the Australian heat." The Eight Hour Day 1856-2006 www.8hourday.org.au/history.asp Ken Thanks for that thought-provoking consideration of Australian work habits and our society. Technology has raced ahead of our societal evolution this last century, so education is ever more vital. For example, in Medicine, or communications, or 3D printing, the pace of change is such that the only way of workers remaining relevant is by constant education, and all too often that doesn't happen. Why would employers want to go to the expense of re-educating their workers, when they can just go out and get younger staff who already have those new skills? So if you lose your job at 40, there is a growing difficulty in finding new employment, especially equivalent work. Effectively they become unproductive. So it is in everybody's long-term interest - except employers, if they have to pay for it! - that retraining and re-education be constant and lifelong. That can only be paid for by Government, and with the stamp of our present mob, who are intent on killing TAFEs and privatising education, that is not going to happen. So Turdball & Co will bellyache about how the young will have to support an unsupportable burden of old people, but they are destroying the older people's relevance and productiveness because older workers aren't glamorous. (But we do have a lot of other equilibrating qualities which can only be gained in the Uni of Life.) Labor must address this issue when it returns to power, and must oblige employers to fund a good part of the re-education process. Now, you Dear Ad astra! Thank you for the personal messages above, but you make me ashamed, I only put in a nickel and you gave me several dollar songs. Your breadth of reading and your depth of understanding continually astounds me.I haven't read the book you refer to but I have followed your links, and that in itself is enough to make me think a bit more about the problem of progressive/reactionary differences. We mused as to whether we might be genetically hard-wired wrt to those attitudes. Well, sibling rivalry at a young age might well be a hard-wired feature of our species as it is in many others - it may obviously help in survival of course, and may also be encouraged by parents and schools, so that would be a combination of nature and nurture. But what is definitely ingrained, and passed on even unto the thirty-third generation, is privilege - re race, language, social class, and most of all, it is perpetuated by the astounding superstition we call Religion. The wealthy obviously have a stake in maintaining the status quo, they have the money to enforce it, and that means that progress towards a genuinely egalitarian society remains a mirage. And even understanding that process doesn't help much, I fear.

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28/11/2015Talk Turkey Thank you for your response. Nature or nurture is the question. As you suggest, sibling rivalry and likely 'privilege' too is 'ingrained'. Is that the same as hard-wiring? The other day, in the debate about domestic violence, I heard that some believe that even if the tendency to violent behaviour is not hard-wired at birth, nurture can soon create that hard-wiring. Accepting neuroscientists' contention that: 'Neurones that fire together, wire together', it is not too much of a stretch to see how neurones firing at witnessing violence in the home could soon hard-wire together 'violence' and 'the home'. It is generally accepted that domestic circumstances such as unemployment, alcoholism, and drug abuse 'run in families'. Is this hard-wiring? If, as you suggest, 'privilege' might be hard-wired in those who enjoy it, it is not too difficult to imagine that the concomitants might be also, such as a desire to maintain their comfortable status quo, to regard those lacking such privilege as not deserving of it because they haven't 'earned it'; to be lazy and too dependent on welfare. Hard core conservatives do hold such beliefs. Belief in the power and wisdom of free markets, from which so many of the privileged have benefitted, becomes entrenched - 'hard-wired' - as does disgust about the notion of welfare entitlement and the state of welfare dependency. Lakoff asserts that while progressives see poverty as a consequence of an unequal society, or misfortune, or illness or disability, conservatives attribute this condition to not working hard enough and therefore not deserving any better. As Joe Hockey would put it - 'they should get a better job that pays well'! What is lacking in such attitudes is empathy - a preparedness to walk in the other's shoes. The attitude of Republicans to 'Obamacare' exemplifies this lack of empathy. Obama repeatedly speaks of the need for empathy, the need to help one another. It seems to be hard-wired into his brain. His opponents respond by mocking him. Disdain for the concept of empathy seems to be hard-wired into their brains. If this hard-wiring is present in political brains as much as it seems to be, we need completely different approaches to bring about any change. The first step is acknowledgement of the other person's hard-wiring; the next steps are not so clear! Which leaves those seeking to change our political culture dismayed and uncertain about what to do next.


28/11/2015Talk Turkey It sounds as though you remember the calls for 'lifelong learning' in the '80s and early '90s but it seems to have faded in more recent times even though, as you say, it is more relevant than ever. I was doing training policy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the time and so made sure I was across all that was happening in the training sector both here in Australia and overseas. At one time, I think mainly in Europe, there was also talk of 'life-wide learning' which gave much greater recognition to skills gained outside the formal education/training system. If our education/training system actually recognised 'life-wide' learning, then some of the problems of older workers would not be so great. I only have to go back to the introduction of computers in the public service: apart from one or two 'experts', the rest of the people working on the computers were self-taught, people who had developed an early interest in computers and self-developed their skills. We were happy to use them then but now would say they need a degree! In that sense, there are times when formal education and training are over-rated.
How many umbrellas are there if I have two in my hand but the wind then blows them away?