The Love of Violence Behind Dole Bludger Bashing: A Obvious if Often Overloooked Fact

Dole bludgers are on the nose again but it is unclear for what reason. There have been reports that there are 40,000 young people in neither employment or some form of education there were also reports that Centrelink has slackened its discipline regime somewhat but in the context of growing prosperity the decrease in productivity these figures announce hardly seems disastrous. Nevertheless, Tony Abbott has proposed time limits on unemployment benefits and options for relocation to mining jobs for the under 30s in order to tackle the problem.

Perhaps his motivation lies in the political productivity of bashing the dole bludger or perhaps it is the fear that if these recalcitrants don’t start doing the work in the Pilbara and other remote centres of mineral wealth the admittance of browns, blacks and yellows might be required. And there is always the motivation voiced so well by the Australian newspaper in its editorial on the issue: greater productivity on the part of the population being a good in itself.

The second motivator, racism, seems to fit well with the election campaign being built by Tony Abbott. It fits nicely with policies to contain our migration intake, encourage Aussie mums to push out more little whiteys – Tony’s government funded paternity leave being nothing more than baby bonuses ranging up to $75,000 proportional to income – and policies to tighten border control. The efficiency aspect is a nice little accompanier; it looks good in the context of the government waste campaign he is running with the Australian. But the first motivator, a joy for violence, a joy at bashing the dole bludger, must not be discounted.

It is not that much of a long bow to draw. Violence has always been at the core of welfare politics. In fact the centrality of the question of violence to the politics of welfare is something that the bleeding hearts would do well to be cognisant of if they are actually interested in defending the ability of people to receive welfare payments with as little ‘mutual obligation’ as possible since only with reference to violence does ‘mutual obligation’ make sense.

This is evident in the so-called contracts that people sign as part of receiving the dole. There is no movement on the terms. It is not a negotiated contract, despite the header on the form. No matter what arguments people might make regarding what is best for them the terms in a ‘mutual obligation’ agreement are one sided unless one considers the possibility of violence. Centrelink is applying the law, negotiation occurs only if one is willing to break the law and force the states hand, that is, risk a confrontation with the militarised wing of the state.

What is presented in these contracts is do what we say or die. The fatal result deriving from the fact that if one refuses and then still takes food and shelter despite not having cash to exchange one is likely to be arrested and if one resists this enough then one will be killed in an act that will not be punished as murder.

It should be noted by all prospective and current welfare recipients that the only way to render these contracts negotiable is by presenting the spectre of violence. Sometimes the administers of the law will then be convinced to break rules so as to avoid the stress and disruption a call to the security guard is going to provoke. They might hit that button on the computer to makes your problem go away so that you in turn will go away.

This is a risky strategy; most of the time the possibility of success are nill except in cases of the most minor contestations. Playing up the violence that is being done to you is also a good strategy; it carries less risk but because it is more frequently encountered it is less effective.

While such occurrences are by their nature hidden, the place of violence in ‘mutual obligation’ and the welfare state is visible in the history of these measures in Australia.

Peter Beilharz once described the period of 1941 to 1945 as “the heroic age in the history of the national welfare state”, it was the time in Australia where the idea that people were entitled to a certain level of financial support beyond their participation in work was first seriously pursued in Australian legislation.

Beilharz’s allusions to Homer are fitting because of the centrality of violence in these developments. The provisions of the legislation of that ‘heroic age’ were based on ensuring that sufficient numbers of people believed that Australia was something that was worth fighting for given the threats posed during the Second World War. The report of the 1941 Joint Parliamentary Committee on Social Security recommended the development of what was to be denoted the welfare state because citizens will “feel that a regime which is prepared, even at this time of emergency, to improve their condition is worth working and fighting for.” The state had decided that it had too many problems with violence and needed to renegotiate with certain potential combatants.

Without the stress of war and concern with the fighting force the welfare legislation of those days would have been decidedly different if not entirely absent. The significance to the term mutual obligation in the context of the foundation of the Australian welfare state looks something like this: “We are offering a guarantee that if you are in circumstances X, Y or Z we will support you in exchange for you and your supporters not being belligerent but considering yourself part of the community. We are offering this only to those in the circumstances mentioned above because we believe that we can handle the belligerence of those not covered as well as that of their supporters.”

It was a recognition that often times when a person finds that their community does not support their activities then their allegiance might not be so strong. It was a response that recognised a connection between a person’s ability to pursue their desires and their membership of a community. If a community did not support the pursuit of a person’s desires then that person would be left to themselves and consequently could not be expected to hold any particular allegiance to that community.

A person desiring to raise children by themselves and denied access to food and other things available in the community because of that choice could not be expected to hold any obligation to that community other than those arising from a calculus of war. The single female parent would resolve the question of theft on the basis of calculation of risk not on the basis of a notion of right or justice – having been excluded from the community how could they have any other relation to that community’s notion of justice?

The introduction and development of social security legislation meant that the vicissitudes of fate as they relate to financial circumstances were to play less of a role in determining the ability of people to pursue activities that they desire and therefore their membership of the community.

Over time the role of the welfare state and unemployment benefits were expanded, perhaps as a result of the spectre of violence organised social groups presented. It was expanded to the point where financial support could be described as being offered to those in the community whose activities did not secure them any financial recompense over and above a certain amount, regardless of any consideration beyond permanent residency.

Always militating against such an expansion were attempts to force people to change the activities they pursued to others that provided greater financial recompense. These efforts can be considered attempts at reducing the variety of desires pursued by the community. In clawing back the welfare state a choice was placed before people, either change your desires or exit the community. One might suggest that such efforts have been growing over at least the last 30 years.

Judith Sloan of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research provided an illustration of such attempts of forced change when she described the operations of jobseeker ‘assistance’ programs in the Australian.

“…research has indicated that when jobseekers, after a period of unemployment, were required to attend a five days a week, fortnight-long course to learn job search skills, a significant number did not bother to turn up and became ineligible for unemployment benefits. Either they had jobs and this imposition could not be accommodated, or the course looked so unattractive that securing employment was a better alternative.”

This is what Judith calls the signaling effect. It is not so much the ‘pathway to employment’ provided in mutual obligation but rather the spectre of punishment it presents that gets people employed or otherwise off payments. Indeed it is not employment that is the goal of such programs: it is exiting the welfare system. This she notes is the merit of Abbott’s plan to ‘encourage’ young welfare recipients to move to fill jobs in the mining sector. It is not training, it is not opportunity, it is the threat of punishment.

The aim of that punishment is not centred on encouraging a move to the Pilbara, rather it forces a choice between exiting the community or changing the activity one desires to pursue in life. The punishment is forcing a decision, either give-up what you desire to pursue so as to join a more narrowly defined community or take your desires and leave the community to pursue them in whatever means you can.

To put Abbott’s proposal into the terms of the founding ‘mutual obligation’ of the welfare state it would sound something like this. “We are happy for those people who are under 30 and who undertake activities that do not have access to financial recompense beyond a certain amount to receive financial support from the government for a certain amount of time and then either be removed from community support or take up some option to move to some remote corner of Australia and help dig stuff out of the ground. As always, we are happy to deal with the belligerence of those that do not like this deal.”

One could then frame Tony Abbott’s position on this in terms of a preference for running a drug war over funding the establishment of computer gaming networks. He is more happy dealing with people who, desiring the pursuit of participation in computer game networks, fund themselves through taking advantage of the profit opportunities brought about by the regulations of various drugs than he is in offering support on the basis of a desire to pursue computer game playing. That is, he is happy to spend money fighting those that take advantage of a disregard for the law rather than fund their pursuit of desired activities that whilst lawful do not offer much in the way of financial return.

Abbott is happy to declare that the Australian community should consider a persons’ activities of no-value except as provided by the market, except in the case of Churches and other select special interests, and he is happy to have this enforced violently.

The likes of Abbott and Judith Sloan frame the issue in terms of government generosity. Ignoring the fact that any law is inherently capricious considering that all people are of incomparable inherent worth and deserving of being treated as Sun Kings and Queens let us state what such generosity means. A most generous welfare state would be one that stated that it would prioritise the ability of its citizens to pursue what they deem good as long as that does not harm others. Meanwhile, the least generous state would put forward something like: you can only pursue what you deem to be good if you force others to support you through sophistry or violence or a combination of both. Any political movement that is gained in welfare politics, not reducible to financial motivation, can be measured in terms of the attractiveness of these contrasting poles, which, put crudely, are: pluralism versus violence.

It must be noted that the defenders of the welfare recipient have been poor in engaging with this debate. The arguments based on the lack of consideration of training and the impact of the global financial crisis that have emerged are easily demolished and bear little relevance to the principle of pluralism. The fact that some welfare recipients would not be interested in any waged jobs, regardless of availability, because they actually think such enterprises are all incomparable to the goodness of things such as PS3 game playing and that mining companies have stated that they have a need of shit kickers render those arguments hollow.

The closest defenders have come to engaging in a debate on the fundamentals of welfare are claims that the policy encourages people to move away from friends and family. Unfortunately, the merit of respecting an individual’s desires in themselves is sidelined here in favour of the inherent value of certain relationships and the economic benefits that accompany them. Would it not be just as deplorable for the loner to be forced to move and give up his non-productive pursuits as the family friendly socialite?

A so-called generous state would be one concerned with defining ‘harm to others’ and maximising the possibility of pursuing all activities that do not constitute this. An argument based on the question of ‘the harm done to others’ on the part of activities valued negatively by the market has yet to emerge from the defenders of welfare recipients. Tony has not engaged at this level either.

The other arguments concerning Welfare revolve around efficiency, whether it is better to deal with the unproductive via Centrelink or Police forces, or they revolve around the inherent value of violence: it is better for those that have lucked out with respect to the valuations of the marketplace to be dealt with via tools such as sticks, cuffs, guns and prisons rather than $250 a week.

Given his lack of consideration of the financial comparison between Centrelink and the Police the second argument, the joy of violence, can be suggested as Abbott’s prime motivation – aside from racism of course. In consideration of the fact that a shift of responsibility from federal to state governments is being made here it must be hoped that Tony Abbott will be giving the states some money if this ‘Welfare Reform’ becomes part of his official policy. Police forces are the responsibility of state governments, social security the federal – guns, batons and prisons cost money you know.

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About barkingcoins
This author is just another fucking dickhead.

One Response to The Love of Violence Behind Dole Bludger Bashing: A Obvious if Often Overloooked Fact

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