September 19, 2007

Charity and the Welfare State

Andrew Lillicoe opposed the principle of equality of opportunity over at conservative home over the last week. His argument is actually quite interesting and presents some problems- which I shall move on to. But it basically goes thus: Andrew thinks that if we have a system that dispenses welfare and creates equality of opportunity basically that rules out charity and provision by parents for children and friends for friends. In his view, "the current welfare state offers very limited opportunity for these expressions of love and social bonding." Parents have no reason to provide for their children, friends no reason to provide for their mates because the state will instead.

Its an interesting argument but not one I accept. There are two functions to this argument- one is that Andrew forgets that not all expressions of friendship or parenthood are monetary. The welfare state actually equalises the capacity of us all to express ourselves in non monetary terms- it doesn't negate the fact that good parenthood and kindness will exist, but it does open up the possibility of allowing us all the capacity to be kind to the same degree. That is the issue about income inequality- it makes kindness an affair of wealth or poverty.

But he does have a point about the whole idea of equality of opportunity. I think its worth just thinking for a second about what that concept is. Often its useful to contrast two concepts in order to understand them. What therefore does inequality of opportunity look like? Inequality of Opportunity could be defined say as the old boy network, the way that people get jobs not because of who they are, but because of whose son or daughter you are, whose surname you bear. Equality of Opportunity is taking people seriously as they are the people they are. It means that you judge them by their virtues and vices. That doesn't mean that people won't be there to help you if you fail and shouldn't be allowed to- for whatever reason they chose- but it does mean that those who have merit but not connections can ascend.

The problem with Mr Lillicoe's view of the world is that firstly its so determined by money and secondly so determined by the way that people should stay where they are in society. He believes in a static society. I'm not sure that that is a promising way forwards or indeed way to think. It ends in an injustice.

This is the beggining of an answer- not an answer.


Witchfinder General said...

Good post!

Gracchi said...


Andrew Lilico said...


I was interested to read your comments here, but I wanted to take you up on two things.

First, I do not believe in a static society, in which people stay where they are. I believe that there should be all kinds of opportunities for people to advance - social mobility is very important. But I think that you make a great error by conflating "opportunity" with "equality of opportunity", when in fact the ideas are almost opposites. I shall offer you an example: There are those that oppose schemes, such as World Vision, whereby individual children are helped by personal donations. It is pointed out that such schemes are unfair, because one child in a village of 200 (say) might receive £30 a year whilst others do not receive this help. But to oppose such a scheme is to oppose opportunity in the name of equality of opportunity - for the £0.15 each of the 200 people would receive will not grant them material opportunity in the way that £30 can. By focusing our love, effort, and resources, we can create opportunity. But if we spread our offerings too thin in the name of equality, no such opportunity is created.

Next, the concept of equality of opportunity is *not* restricted to money. For example, in David Willetts' speech that I mentioned, he gave the examples of parents driving their children to sports events, or helping them with their homework. His view was that it was a problem that the current system (and the grammar school system in particular) allowed this extra assistance from parents to give their children an unfair (unequal) advantage.

So, I do not believe in a static society. And I do not equate love with money. I hope this helps clarify matters.