Thursday, 20 July 2017

Should carers receive assistance and even compensation?

Should carers receive assistance and even compensation?

Most political philosophers would agree that carers should receive support and even compensation for their caring activities. However, there are many potential justifications for this. These may be competing or complementary, but they provide different answers to the above questions.

Compensation for bad luck

Perhaps the most straightforward justification for supporting carers is a luck egalitarian position. This is that it is a matter of bad luck that someone’s loved one needs care. If we accept that people should not be worse off due to brute bad luck then carers are owed compensation by their society to compensate them for their ill fortune.

This is an attractive position, but while it readily justifies support for carers for the disabled it is not as straightforward regarding children. Parents could be considered to be responsible for the creation of their children and that they do not therefore suffer from bad luck – they brought the children on themselves.

Another argument from compensating bad luck would be to focus on the bad luck of the cared-for person.[1] If someone is dependent upon a poorly supported carer then this could have a significant detriment upon their own well-being. This could justify compensation for carers where it will assist the cared-for, but it might not justify support in cases where the cared-for person will have a reasonable standard of living without government support. Essentially, this justifies support for less fortunate carers but not necessarily for better off carers.

Benefit to carer/society

An alternative basis for supporting carers is to focus on the advantage that the care provides either to the carer or society, which is attractive because it would readily include children. The advantage to the carer could be that care is an important part of the good life and caring should be encouraged, supported and socially recognised.[2] However, this view is not acceptable to anti-perfectionist political philosophers such as myself who do not believe that the state should endorse any view of the good life.[3]

The advantage to society approach is therefore more promising, particularly regarding care for children who represent a future generation of citizens and workers. The argument here is that children are a vitally important public good and those who provide this good should receive support.[4] This view runs into some problem for those who are sceptical that a) providing public goods entitles someone to support or b) that all children would qualify as a public good. Furthermore, this may not justify support for carers for those who no longer provide much obvious benefit to society (for example because they are in a permanent vegetative state).

An alternative?

These positions can justify comprehensive support for parent carers. This can be done by combining some of the positions together, or by supplementing one position with some further empirical or normative premises to justify universal provision[5]. However, I wonder if it is possible to present a more attractive position.

I am interested in the idea that carers should be compensated on the basis that they are providing a service for the needy that the state would otherwise have to provide. Essentially, this combines elements of the benefit to society and benefit to cared-for positions but which would avoid some of the gaps or controversies that accompany those positions.

Does anyone know of any arguments in the literature that run along these lines? (Or a reason why it isn't worth pursuing such a line of thought!)

Dworkin, Ronald. Sovereign Virtue. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2000.
Engster, Daniel. The Heart of Justice Care Ethics and Political Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Olsaretti, Serena. "Children as Public Goods?". Philosophy & Public Affairs 41, no. 3 (2013): 226-58.
Quong, Jonathan. Liberalism without Perfection Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Rawls, John. Political Liberalism New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

[1] For example in Ronald Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2000).
[2] For example in Daniel Engster, The Heart of Justice Care Ethics and Political Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
[3] John Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996); Jonathan Quong, Liberalism without Perfection (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
[4] Serena Olsaretti, "Children as Public Goods?," Philosophy & Public Affairs 41, no. 3 (2013).
[5] Such as that administrative savings from universal provision would make it cheaper than means-testing or that it is wrong to discriminate between carers based on their wealth or income when they are performing the same task.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Zero Hours Contracts and the Labour Party

During the build up to the election I wrote a blog for Manchester policy expressing my scepticism about the need to ban zero-hours contracts.

Unfortunately I was a bit late getting it to them and so it was published when I was out of the country and unable to publicise it.

As things stand, though it is quite possible that Labour will be fighting another election again soon with a similar manifesto. It is still worth mentioning, therefore, though who knows what will happen in the disaster that is British politics since the vote for Brexit.

In the blog I argue that measures short of a ban should be considered, such as setting a higher minimum wage for zero-hours contracts.

I take this one example of where the Corbyn team currently leading the Labour party are a little out of touch with the economy. Unfortunately the favourable employment conditions found in the more economically developed world from the mid twentieth century no longer apply and are highly unlikely to return.

The immediate levers to which the Corbyn team turn are, to my mind, and their plans to borrow huge amounts would have economic consequences that could affect ordinary people as well as the hated 'fat cats.'

That said, I would of course prefer a Corbyn government to a Tory one, and the progressive tax proposals in the Labour manifesto represent a move in the right direction. I would just disagree on how they should be spent.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Free view of my book review - limited time only

In my previous blog I mentioned that my review of Julie Rose's book Free Time (Princeton University Press, 2016) has been accepted for publication in the journal Res Publica.

Well, it is now available online and the publisher has provided a link to get a free view of it.

I'm not sure how long the above link will work for, but the publication page (which will probably require you to pay or use an institutional login to view the review) can be found here.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Julie Rose's book Free Time

I'm pleased to report that my review of Julie Rose's book Free Time (Princeton University Press, 2016) has been accepted for publication in the journal Res Publica.

Here is a photo of me with the book (which has a very attractive cover).

Julie prefers the term Free Time to leisure because it captures the idea that what matters is that we have time where we do not have any binding commitments.

Those with a lot of wealth or high hourly incomes can not only buy themselves goods and services, but also in many cases enjoy more free time than the rest of their society.

In my own work on taxation and benefits I have emphasised that this is not captured very accurately in our current tax and benefit system, and that doing so would be fairer and more economically efficient. My CLIPH-rate tax proposals are designed with these generally overlooked issues in mind.

I think the book is very good and while I disagree on certain points it does an excellent job of showing how important yet underappreciated free time by liberal philosophers of distributive justice.

I hope that Julie, myself and others will continue to develop theories which emphasise the importance of leisure/free time.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Oxford University Press festival of philosophy

For the next week there will be a series of philosophy events taking place in Oxford. 

These have been organised by Oxford University Press along with the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education and Blackwell’s bookshop.

Next Saturday at 10.30 I will be on a panel discussing equality at Blackwell’s bookshop on Broad Street Oxford.

I’ve just been told it is fully booked but it might be worth contacting the organisers anyway or showing up on the day if you are particularly interested.

There are lots of other interesting events taking place as well.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Doff your caps to the new lord

Yesterday the Duke of Westminster died. Apparently he had an £8.3bn estimated fortune.

Today's news is that there is a new Duke of Westminster, who has apparently got a £9bn fortune.

This is surprising news to anyone who is aware that there is a terrible estate tax which takes half of the wealth of the deceased.

The telegraph has conveniently told us how the Westminster's can avoid the taxes that 'regular' wealthy people pay using a trust for the benefit of future Westminster's. The Telegraph story isn't about how this is a huge scandal - a massive scam at the expense of you me and everyone else. It's about whether the reader could benefit from such a scheme (answer - no).

If the Westminsters (or Grosvenors or whatever) don't really own the money then they aren't actually worth the £9bn that is reported. But if they do really own the money they should be taxed like anyone else would be. It seems on the face of it like they do own it and benefit from it.

Not only does this structure avoid the £3.6bn in tax that anyone else would expect to go to the treasury but actually tax on unearned fortunes should be MUCH higher than it is. Unearned income is simply the best thing to tax from both an economic and a moral point of view. It doesn't really disincentivise economically beneficial behaviour.

The outgoing duke seemed to be aware of all this himself - showing a sense of humour about his investment acumen. No reports as yet that he decided to bequeath the £3.6bn to the UK treasury though.

It seems feudalism is alive and well in 21st century Britain and it is totally sickening.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

EU Referendum

I’m not particularly enamoured with the EU. The institution suffers from a democratic deficit, with a lot of decision making done by appointed officials who are very tenuously accountable to the people they serve.

Nevertheless, I’m entirely unconvinced by those who support Britain leaving the UK. For the most part, they strike me as a mixture of fantasists and xenophobes.

Just as the SNP promised to be everything to everyone in the Scottish independence referendum, so it is with the campaign(s) to leave. The campaigners tend to hold extreme views and do not like the EU as it blocks them from obtaining the outcome they want. These are usually right wing views but in some cases far-left views too.

Despite some strong beliefs to the contrary, I'm doubtful that the UK would be turned into a goods-exporting, innovative tax-haven socialist utopia if we could only be free of EU shackles.

It is much more likely that leaving the EU would cause huge economic disruption and diminish the place of the UK in the wider world. Some supporters of the EU might legitimately claim that this would be a price worth paying for greater self-determination and democracy. This is one argument I can respect, but I’m not sure how many anti-EU campaigners would really believe this.

This is because I don’t think the political system in the UK is a particularly good version of democracy. Our system of local representation was no doubt the best feasible one in the 17th century but it doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny in the 21st century. Instead of horse-drawn carts and mass-illiteracy we now have instantaneous communications and political parties (with their whips).

If the leave campaign were really interested in democracy I would expect the campaign to coincide strongly with those who also campaign for radical changes to our electoral system. To the contrary, I don’t get the impression many anti-EU campaigners really care about democratic legitimacy.

One problem with the democracy-based leave campaign is that if you leave the EU you can’t influence it any more to make it more democratic. Furthermore, the challenges facing the world are increasingly ones that require international agreement and co-operation, such as combating climate change.

I also wouldn't be convinced because I think it is sensible to limit what can be done in the name of the people, whether this would be suppressing the rights of individuals or minority groups, or, in making decisions that will be hugely counterproductive and self-defeating.

There is a pro-democracy argument for leaving the EU. However, I don’t think it is the one that motivates most anti-EU activists and nor is it one that convinces me.