If you are one of the people who keep sending me mail to sign petitions and join causes, please keep sending them. Chances that I will sign any are very low but I like to know what concerns the people I know. Why I am so reluctant to sign up to causes should be the subject of another discussion, now I want to write about a recent one I received.
This is the petition: Stop councils charging for vacant bedroom tax, yet another unfair tax!!!
This cause has 126,414 signatures 385 comments.
It came from someone I thought of as a libertarian friend. My first thought was a flashback to my childhood when half of the apartments around us had two-three families living in them.
Sometimes in the seventies I talked to a woman who was about my mother’s age, a teenager when the war ended. She did something with her husband that was unheard of in the early fifties – they built a house for themselves. I was sitting in that house when talking to her. It was one room with a kitchen corner and an alcove where they had the bed. She explained to me that they did not dare to build a house with a bedroom in it because they were afraid that the state will move another family into their house. Such thing was a commonplace situation in the communist block.
It’s understandable that I worked myself up. Are we this close to the dark ages again? How dare they? This may be the first petition I may sign.
Then I looked into it. It reminded me of a radio Yerevan joke:
“Our dear listener from Tbilisi would like to know: Is it true that the government is distributing Mercedes automobiles in Leningrad?
Our answer is: it is TRUE, except not in Leningrad but in Moscow, not Mercedes but Lada automobiles and they are not distributing them, they are confiscating them.”
The petition was like that. It is not a tax, but a cut in housing subsidy for welfare recipients living in large apartments. It only effects the amount of subsidy they get and only if the space is clearly, demonstrably not used.
The government subsidies obviously created incentives to get as much of a living space as possible and when the kids moved out, there was no corresponding incentive to give up the space so now the government introduced a welfare reform to deal with the problem. The key question in this document is:
“Are you under-occupying your home for welfare benefit purposes?” (highlight is mine)
Read the rules in the document!
This, of course, reminded me of similar situations.
I had a buddy on welfare in Montreal living in a large, comfortable, rent controlled three-bedroom apartment in a prime Westmount location. When I last talked to him five years ago, he was paying $600,-/month which was already then less than half of the market value of the apartment. He lives there with his wife. Both of their kids have moved out years ago but it is understandable why nothing in this world would make him move from there.
A few years ago I ended up with some friends at a theatre-performance-after-party in a similar place in Toronto, a single woman living in an even better and larger apartment in an even better location right on the waterfront. That place was a government financed co-op.
If governments were not involved, these people would live in places that they can afford, but as it is, they live in places the taxpayers or the legally pressured landlord must afford for them. And this is what I am supposed to sign a petition for?
Government interventions always create the need for more government intervention. Give me a petition asking for the immediate cessation of any government involvement in the housing and rental markets and I will sign it immediately.
Do not misunderstand me, I am not faulting either of these tenants for taking advantage of a system that is designed to be taken advantage of. These people do what makes sense to them. Just like the rest of us, they are self-interest maximizers. The problem is the system we created.
We could talk about the system, how it operates, what are the unintended consequences and how the system must deal with them; we could talk about its effects on the economy, the morals of the beneficiaries of the system and society at large, but the question that interests me now concerns the friend who sent this to me.
Was it just a reflex forward? Did she actually check what she was asking others to support? In a way I hope she did not. I am dreading the possibility that she may turned into a welfare rights advocate.
How much attention are we paying to what we do in the age of instantaneous communication? Will the amount of knowledge around us give us more power or induce complacency about the information we handle? Will the internet be more likely to serve the interest of freedom and knowledge or the interest of the mob and propaganda? The comments on the causes.com page for this matter are scary and depressing.
After reading the comments does anybody think that these commenters can be reasoned with? Will their minds be open for the message of liberty and personal responsibility? Limited government?