Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Some history

Here's a quotation from today's Future of Freedom newsletter:

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.
– Grover Cleveland, " Letter to the House of Representatives" [1887]
As per usual I am struck by how the western world debated and developed laws fairly simultaneously and continues to do so. At this time there was much clamouring for governments to get involved in redistributing wealth.

Dr Duncan McGregor, New Zealand's Inspector of Hospitals and Charitable Institutions late 19th century was radical in his opposition to state  assistance understanding the difficulty of raising funds privately once it was known government was putting up taxpayer money. He said:

"Poor Law dries up the springs of private charity."

Scottish-born New Zealand MP Donald Reid, also resisted saying in 1877:

"...and the class requiring assistance would begin to consider that they had a right to demand the money which was collected by means of the poor rate, whereas they ought rather to feel that any assistance they obtained was given as a charity".

According to historian David Thompson, Reid and his colleagues were anxious that a "vagrant class" did not latch on to the earnings of others.

The idea of state assistance provided through a compulsory levy was an anathema to the early Liberals, though some favoured a mix of subsidy from the Consolidated Fund (raised mainly through duties as opposed to income tax) and privately-raised monies. About granting a right to monetary support by others, Prime Minister, Robert Stout said:

"I consider that to be a most dangerous principle for any State to confirm."

1 comment:

Kiwiwit said...

There are a lot of misconceptions regarding the general welfare of people prior to the modern welfare state. In England, obligations on the aristocracy, the church and the landed gentry to take care of the poor in their parishes dated from before the Norman Conquest and worked highly effectively - to the point where Alexis de Tocqueville observed on a visit to England in the 1830s that "the English poor appear almost rich to the French poor."

Ironically, the New Poor Law of 1834, which replaced the ancient obligations with state-managed aid, made things much worse for England's poor. Many who were taken care of by the ancient local relief system, such as unmarried mothers and those who refused to be accommodated in the appalling poor houses, were excluded from the generosity of the state system, with the result that actual deprivation increased markedly in the decades following its enactment.