It’s a libertarian fantasy that the problem of welfare dependence can be addressed without using the power of the state to compel responsible personal behaviour.
State compulsion, for example, is essential to enforce mutual obligation requirements and force the unemployed to actively seek a job, instead of continuing to loaf on the dole.
My research on the nation’s child protection crisis has sharply revealed the social damage wreaked by unrestricted welfare and parental bad behaviour among an underclass of dysfunctional families.
I therefore have no problem with the idea that welfare recipients could be compelled to take better care of children by being forced to spend their benefits on food and other essentials, rather than on drink, drugs, and gambling.
This is how we should view the debate about the federal government’s plan to expand the trial of the ‘cashless welfare card’ — as a means of addressing the intergenerational transfer of dysfunction and dependence within families.
In philosophical terms, the cashless welfare card is an example of ‘small government conservatism‘: a socially conservative approach to social policy which — contrary to the conventional political wisdom — utilises state intervention to reduce the size of government.
This position may be difficult to accept for economic liberals who place a premium on individual freedom and freedom from government control.
However, it is impossible to deal with the issue of welfare dependence by simply applying the first principle that government should always do less.
As former Labor Minister and social commentator Gary Johns has argued, it is crucial to continue to make the economic case for freedom from state intervention.
But as he has also rightly argued, this is insufficient to address the social problems that have driven growth in the size of government.
Addressing welfare dependence will require more, not less, state intervention through policies such as mutual obligation and cashless welfare.
23 March 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre
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